A Woman For President

I’d much rather a woman for President this time around, and more women in positions of power in general. Particularly women of color. Sure, there’s a bit of knee-jerk in there, and some turnabout is fair play. But mostly I’d like our leaders to be the sort of people who’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges to get their seat at the table, and who remember what it’s like to be marginalized. People who had to learn early to take care and keep an eye out, because society granted them no wiggle room, no second chances if they made a mistake. I want people who understand that heroes might make for great stories, but that actual large-scale accomplishment in the real world takes community and cooperation and coalition-building, and is accomplished in halting, agonizingly slow steps (two forward, one back, then one to the side because somebody threw up a wall). People for whom patience and resilience aren’t just virtues to aspire to, but survival strategies that go bone deep.


Sure, life is hard for almost everyone. By design, because civilization has almost always been a pyramid scheme, where most suffer so a few don’t have to. But those against whom the deck’s most stacked have the hardest path from where they start to the table where decisions get made, and the ones who make it – and who remember where they started – tend to have, in my experience, the right combination of toughness, ability, and compassion to lead us into the next phase of humanity, where everyone gets their fair share and their shot at living a meaningful life.

Black History Month Book Report #2: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

I wasn’t going to read this one second (though it was on the list). But then I cracked the cover and read the first chapter, and, just like that, I was hooked.

American Street begins with a loss. Fabiola Toussaint and her mother, Valerie, are moving to Detroit from Port-au-Prince. Fabiola is American born, and passes through immigration with no problem. But now she’s stuck on the wrong side of the glass: her mother has been detained. Reluctantly, she boards her connecting flight to Detroit, hoping against hope that her mother will follow along shortly.

I don’t think I’m spoiling much if I say that her mother does not. Instead, Fabiola (shortly Fabulous) joins her cousins Chantal, Princess (‘Pri’), and Primadonna (‘Donna’) and her aunt Jo in Detroit, where Fabiola must find a way to navigate this strange and dangerous territory while holding on to who she is and trying to find a way to bring her mother through the gateway and into America.

It’s a neat trick, establishing empathy with a character you’ve just met, and Zoboi does it flawlessly in those first pages and then never lets up. Fabiola must find her way through not only the culture shock of moving from Haiti to America, but also the discrepancies between the America she expected and the America she experiences, all while trying to build a sense of family with her cousins, who were only voices on the phone til she arrived, and restore the family she’s known her whole life by getting her mother through immigration. Add in the dangers of high school, the drug trade, and the particular precariousness of life in Detroit, fallen symbol of the 20th Century American Dream, it’s no wonder Fabulous feels lost. Luckily, she has her vodou practice, her cousins, and her memories to carry her through.

This is one of those books that just grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. At least it was for me. Tautly-plotted and written in prose that manages to be visceral, poetic, and windowpane-clear all at once, I chewed my way through most of this book in a single day. I can see why it won the National Book Award.

Immigrant stories are an American perennial, both because of the long and mostly positive history of our lifted lamp beside the golden door, and because we can see it most clear through fresh eyes, both in its ideal form (both foreign and domestic) and its actuality. Here that actuality takes many forms: the injustice of splitting Fabiola from her mother, the Faustian bargain she’s offered by a local police detective, and the fruits of that bargain, too, which I won’t spoil but will have you nodding and saying ‘yeah, that’s about right’ even as you wipe a tear from your eye and read on, hoping Zoboi will take it back. But of course she doesn’t, because even though Fabiola is eminently root-forable, this is America, and she and her family – and everyone near their home at the corner of American Street and Joy Road – are black.

That’s not to say this book is a bummer. Much of it is so ebullient and alive that the reader will forgive the inescapably complicated state of things by the end. It is, perhaps, as happy an ending as can be asked for, and one that satisfies even if you don’t get all you root for.

Either way, this is a fantastic book, and one I’d recommend both for its all-too-relevant subject matter and its stunning fulfillment of the promise it makes in those first few pages. Go ahead, pick it up. I’m willing to bet you won’t put it down.

An Open Letter to David Meinert

We all want to think of ourselves as good people. Even when we are imperfect, and have done wrong, and been ‘pushy’ or ‘handsy’ with women. Or we used to drink too much, and maybe some of our memories of the way things went down differ from the other people involved. And, you know, times are changing. Even two or three years ago, before #metoo really picked up momentum, things were different between men and women. Never mind how things were back at the millenium’s turn, or, god help us all, the ’80s and ’90s, when rape culture was, well, culture.

But here we are.

Now, before I go any further, I want you to know that I believe you when you say #metoo has opened your eyes, and that you’re trying to do better, trying to make changes internally while also making noise to help make changes in the external world. I think it’s good you’re engaging, and I hope you find a good way to continue.

But I also believe the women in this KUOW article. And I think you should, too.

I know your memories don’t jibe. And some of them have stayed ‘friends’ with you since. Which must seem weird to you, since I’m sure if someone did to you what you did to them, you probably wouldn’t have anything to do with that person ever again. I’m also betting no one ever has done something like that to you. So maybe you wouldn’t do what you think you would do. I didn’t. But, you know, it’s not really that weird you might misremember or have forgotten something, considering the way alcohol flows through most of these stories, and how tricky memory is even when everything’s working the way it should. And staying friendly (or even actual, like, friends) with people who’ve assaulted you or even just been really shady about sex stuff is something women have been doing for, like, ever. Especially when it involves someone with your footprint. Even if it’s just going along to get along instead of, say, abject fear you might use your significant influence and power to quash them. For my own part, when I first starting coming to terms with this gender relations sea change we’re in, I wrote this confession (Serious Trigger Warning for Survivors of Sexual Assault). About a year after, a friend from college — a close friend, who I hooked up with once — asked if she was one of the people I was writing about. To my deep shame and chagrin, she was not. And we actually were (and, I believe, still are) friends.

But that’s not the real reason I think you should take these five women at their word, whatever your memories, or the stories you’ve told yourself about yourself, or them. Continue reading “An Open Letter to David Meinert”

The Closest I Ever Came to Being Sexually Assaulted

It was the summer of 1992. I was nineteen years old, and had finished my first year of college. I was living near Ann Arbor, Michigan, staying with a friend and his family for the summer between school years.

Ann Arbor is a college town, so even in summer there was stuff to do. But we were under twenty-one, and broke (I had the worst job I ever had, that summer, or close to it, working for a moving company that required I wake up and call in at 7am to see if they had work for me that day; most days, they didn’t). But my friend was really into dancing — I liked it, too — so we would, once every week or two, splurge and pay the cover at a dance club in town. I want to say it was called Tangerine, or something like that.

The place was alright, as small-town dance clubs go. Not that I was particularly an aficionado. But I liked dancing, and I liked the at least notional chance of meeting women, so I was happy enough to go those nights we could scrape together the five bucks each the place cost.

Then, one night, I had to take a shit.

I didn’t want to do it there. The bathrooms were not the most sanitary and, worse, the stall doors had no locks. But as time passed and the pressure mounted, what I did and didn’t want mattered less and less. I couldn’t even leave the club to go find a more suitable spot, because I’d have had to pay cover again, and I had no money for that.

So I did what I had to do. What was the worst thing that could happen? Continue reading “The Closest I Ever Came to Being Sexually Assaulted”

Toxic Masculinity vs Depression

I knew something was wrong the moment my mom walked into my room. It wasn’t just that she was crying, though she was. In a moment I was crying, too, because it was my mom waking me up to go to school that morning. Which was not her job. My dad was the one who woke me up for school in the morning. The moment I laid eyes on my mom I knew: my dad finally left her.

I was in fifth grade. Not quite ten years old. It was the early ’80s, and I was very shortly to have the disctinction of being the first kid I knew whose parents got a divorce.

It wasn’t a surprise. Like I said, I knew right away what had happened. And to be honest, I can’t — and could not at the time — remember a time when my parents weren’t fighting. I didn’t know what they were fighting about, didn’t really even want to. It was just a thing that happened, and when it did I would go to my room and play with my toys or read a book or I’d go outside and ride my bike around the neighborhood or go knock on a friend’s door or one of the thousand other things kids did back in the days when parents weren’t expected to schedule and supervise their childrens’ entire existence.

That morning was the last time I cried about it.

Because like I knew what had happened the night before, I knew what was expected of me. What was expected of any boy who wasn’t girly or gay or soft or weak. No one had to tell me that boys don’t cry.

So I didn’t. I tamped that shit down, put on my game face, and went on a field trip to Sea World with the rest of my class. As I recall, my dad was one of our chaperones. I didn’t ask him what happened. I mean, it wasn’t like it was a surprise. The real surprise was it hadn’t happened sooner.

I remember being very proud of myself for being so mature.

It wasn’t long after that I started acting out. Continue reading “Toxic Masculinity vs Depression”