kitchen table

take a walk
November 28, 2006, 2:03 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, City life, Growing Up, work

My boyfriend worked as a banker for almost four years before he went back to school. Four years in a cubicle, which is a hell of a lot worse than my sunny, quiet office in an old ministry. Even still, I get hella fidgety from time to time. I know it’s bad when I find myself checking the Entertainment tab of Yahoo! more than once in a one-minute time frame.

His advice? Take a walk.

And so I do. One of the nice things about working in an office in a city is that I have more to stare at on this five-minute diversion than a parking lot and some office park landscape. If I turn right at the door, I walk past a beautiful old church before reaching the corner where Italian delis mingle with barber shops. If I take a left, I stroll by the incredible red stone structure that is Lafayette High School and inevitably find myself at one of the many traffic circles of Buffalo’s West side.

And after that? It’s back to the grind.


the least glamorous stuff
October 12, 2006, 1:48 pm
Filed under: Activism, Growing Up

The real revolution is always concerned with the least glamorous stuff.
Alice Walker, “The Unglamorous but Worthwhile Duties of the Black Revolutionary Artist.”

This is what I told myself yesterday as I sat in a dark room with drafty windows, helping Seniors fill out their STAR applications. So many of them told me that if they didn’t get this tax exemption they wouldn’t be able to live, literally. One lady has 27 prescriptions for which she has to pay. One army veteran who didn’t qualify for the program and wore a peace sign on a chain around his neck, told me that by the time he did reach the qualifying age–65–he’d probably be dead.

Last monday I saw The U.S. vs. John Lennon, a film documenting the United States’ campaign to get Lennon out of the country and out of the spotlight. It was a great film, very inspiring and it spoke to my younger brother’s rock and roll sensibilities. What John and Yoko were doing was incredibly glamorous, the epitomy of glamor, but one could argue they had little choice given their intense popularity. They used their celebrity in a responsible way, to bring attention to injustice.

My point of mentioning this film is that it caused in me a small riot. Why aren’t I out there being loud and holding bed-ins and writing anti-war songs? In short, I was frustrated with myself for not being as big and glamorous as Lennon. These small, repeated acts of resistance–like helping Seniors fill out their STAR applications, or talking a mother through the process of receiving food stamps, or volunteering a Saturday to clean out the PUSH house–sometimes don’t feel like enough, especially when you lose sight of this work as part of a larger movement. And so when I see movies like the U.S. vs. John Lennon, I sometimes forget momentarily that John Lennon’s activism stemmed from years of work by the Student movement which stemmed for years of work by the Civil Rights movement. And that the real revolution happened at someone’s doorstep in Mississippi, and that there were no cameras present. Just like yesterday, in that small dark room with the drafty windows.

I take from this self-indulgent riot an indication that I need to check in with myself again, that I need to remind myself that helping someone help themselves is a revolutionary act. In the same essay as quoted above, Alice Walker writes that teaching a black elder to read is a revolutionary act, as is writing from time to time, as is kindness and love. I don’t intend to sound hokey or naive, I intend to sound sincere and responsible.

The more distant we perceive ourselves to be from movements concerned with justice, the more paralyzed we become. I always try to bring it down to a local level, until I’m talking about you and me and our shit right here. If we can’t get that shit straight, we’re never going to realize justice on a large scale.

Revolutionary work is not glamorous work and I strive to maintain a healthy level of suspicion at anything that makes me feel glamorous, in the slightest. It’s so easy to lose one’s head and that’s about the least helpful thing I can do, losing my head.

the game
September 26, 2006, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Buffalo, Growing Up, love

We are only particles of change, I know, I know.
-Joni Mitchell

I just started a new job this week and it has me playing the game, “What would the Whitney-from-10-years-ago think about this most recent venture?” I like this game, in part because I try to imagine what version I’ll be playing ten years from now.

In the year or so since I graduated from college, I’ve done things my younger self would probably find surprising, maybe even unappealing. They include working on a dairy farm, teaching English in South Korea, and managing a political campaign.

Sometimes I feel the panic I imagine most people feel: Shit! Am I really doing this? We tend to psych ourselves out by believing that once we sign up for a job or a change or an apartment lease, we’ll be there forever. This is another reason why I like playing the game: it reminds me of how unlikely those fears actually are.

Even if we do stay in a job or a city for a long period of time, I take comfort in knowing that our areas of focus change, our friends move on and move closer, our families split and heal and split again.

I’d love to hear about other people’s surprises—what have you done or what are you doing now that a younger version of yourself would find hard to believe or understand?

nice, little get away
September 20, 2006, 11:30 am
Filed under: Buffalo, City life, friends, Growing Up, love

“One of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary, has ever happended to anyone before.”

Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That”

Somerville station, NJ

I flew into New York last Thursday morning, early enough to almost fall asleep on the subway. I made a friend though, an Argentinian woman who wanted to go to “Can-nan-nal” Street during her layover, and our small talk kept me half-alert until I could reach my friend’s apartment and promptly fall asleep in his bed.

The city was filled with rain and strangers who shared with me umbrellas and other sweetness.

Flung back into the life of a vagabond–where am I staying tonight?–both fun and excruiating. Now that travel has become a short thing of the Getting Away nature, and not my lifestyle as it was when I hopped from plane to plane, country to country, I am feeling its affects differently. As expected, I appreciate it more immediately for what it is: luxurious, an escape.

But there’s this other piece too, and I’m afraid I’ve got little choice but to be vague as I work through the feeling: I’m learning how a simple vacation–especially when you visit a place where you spent a few nights asking yourself hard questions or a few mornings waking up in bed with a lover or a few evenings walking with a blank slate of obligations–can shake the whole foundation of the place from where you departed.

I don’t know how to let something devour me slightly.

Talk to me when you’ve been a right-wing political hack
September 5, 2006, 5:22 pm
Filed under: Activism, conservative craziness, Growing Up, politics

One of my favorite writers at livejournal, Laura, has an Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly up at her journal. She takes O’Reilly to task for asking celebrities like George Clooney and the Dixie Chicks detailed, case-specific questions about the war on “Islamic Fascists,” and gives a pretty great history of The Muslim Brotherhood, which O’Reilly mistakenly calls “The Islamic Brotherhood.”

Laura’s post also made me think about an oft-employed tactic mostly older, mostly male relatives have used on me during discussions in which they disagree with my stance. I’ve heard it employed by non-relatives too, across the gender lines. I usually call it the Talk to Me When You’ve Been a Teacher for 35 Years argument since this was the first version I heard as an Opinionated Young Person. The older person, and it really doesn’t matter how much older, dismisses the younger person’s thoughts and ideas with simple, “Yeah, well, talk to me when you [insert specific experience; ranging in detail, depth, and length of time to “complete” said experience] and then we’ll see.” Besides the “Talk to me when you’ve been a teacher for 35 years,” response to a discussion about education reform, I’ve received the “Talk to me after you’ve been in the Korean War,” and “Talk to me when you’ve got a mortgage.” (My friend Stephen, with whom I am applying for a mortgage, and I are secretly excited to be fake-condescending to our friends and respond to anything they say with, “Well, [Friend’s name] talk to me when you’ve got a mortgage.”)

It’s not so much that I think the experiences of teaching for 35 years, or being in a foreign war, or having a mortgage are insignificant. It’s the assumption that there is only one right conclusion derived from such an experience that bothers me, as well as the admittance that then and only then will Older Person consider Younger Person’s ideas. It’s unfortunate because a potentially great teaching-moment is flushed down the toilet.

All that aside, I don’t want to claim that I haven’t dismissed someone’s argument for a perceived lack of experience on their part. But what I always strive to do, and what I think we’d all benefit from, is to see those moments as an opportunity to share an experience. An opportunity to trace the evolution of related beliefs and, quite possibly, earn some respect.

straddling adulthood, or something like that
August 30, 2006, 12:01 pm
Filed under: Blogging, Darn Kids, Growing Up

This morning before work I took my brother out to coffee. Well, he got some ridiculous strawberry-shake drink and I got tea so coffee in the atmospheric sense, not the literal. We had a bit of banter about the worth of classical music: he took the “it’s outdated” argument while I insisted that respect for the likes of Beethoven and Mozart was essential for a musician. It is a clear example of my getting older, of gaining significant distance from the youthful inclination to dismiss the accomplishments of those that came before. But it’s also evidence of a trait I’m not eager to embrace: the inclination to argue on behalf of people for whom or ideals for which I don’t really care about just for the sake of pointing out to a young person what they should respect, what they should know.

I like to think that I redeemed myself somehow though as I spent the rest of the conversation, and the ride to drop him off at home, asking him what he thought made a good teacher. Picking his brain, I was reminded that if I want to know what makes a great teacher and if I want to be one, I need to listen to some of their greatest fans and critics: their 15 year old students. At times it’s hard to get my brother to talk about anything passionately besides his music but when I asked him that simple question–what do you think makes a good teacher?–he was practically tripping over his words, they were coming out so fast.

This straddling of adulthood and youngin’-life is a funny thing. In any given day I feel hypocritical, responsible, wise, and compromised. Or contradictory, sold-out, and doing-the-best-I-can. Just the other day I read through my journals from the first couple years of college and I hardly recognized the girl who must have held the pen, the girl who must have written the words. And again I felt those mixed emotions: embarrassed by her ignorance and yet moved–inspired–by her innocence.