Key Issues

Thursday morning, I remembered my glasses, my umbrella, my book for the train (Love Me Back, by Merritt Tierce) – and almost walked out without my keys. Fortunately I caught the door just in time before it locked behind me. An ordinary careless moment, except for some of the anxiety it triggered, which kept pace with me as I walked down the street, illuminating old memories floating at unseen depths.

We used to sit in the backseat of the car, my sister and I, and watch as my mother locked the door to the house behind her in preparation for leaving. Then she unlocked it. Then locked it again. Unlock. Lock. Unlock. Lock. Minutes passed. We watched in silence – it would have been risky to demand we get going. Lock. Unlock. Continue reading “Key Issues”

Trying so hard to carry that weight

Please note: I have similar thoughts as Roxane Gay regarding trigger warnings. You can read her thoughts on the topic here.  At any rate, this note can probably be considered a trigger warning.

Today I walked home from Park Slope to Flatbush after visiting the dentist. (Ugh, a visit I put off much too long…) Along the way I passed a cute little brunchy restaurant – probably passed a couple dozen, actually, given the neighborhood. But two servers stood outside this one, a man and a woman. The woman was talking rapidly, her voice and body tense. “And then he said to me, ‘You’ve worked here how long, and you still don’t know the menu?’ Which was completely not necessary – I’ve been trying so hard…” Her voice, taut and frustrated a moment before, flooded with the sound of tears at trying so hard, syllables growing liquid and tremulous and vulnerable. The man said something to comfort her, and she calmed herself before they went back inside.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the invisibility of suffering.

Some of this has been prompted by Emma Sulkowicz. Emma is a student at my alma mater; maybe you’ve seen her on the news. Emma was raped on campus by a classmate accused of rape by two other students. All charges against him were dismissed. Emma, along with other students, filed a Title IX complaint earlier this year regarding the university’s alleged mishandling of their sexual assault cases. In the meantime, Emma carries her mattress with her everywhere she goes, part protest, part performance art, and a visible reminder of the more intangible burden of sexual assault she is forced to carry.

I’ve seen Emma several times, and each time I am struck by the absolute ordinariness of her movement around campus. She is not drawing attention to herself; she is not trying to draw a crowd. She simply is going from one place to another, making her way through others doing the same. Always, I have seen her with a companion (a different one each time), helping her carry the mattress. A statement is being made in that act, but if I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was just two friends struggling to move some furniture.

Emma’s act makes visible what was previously unseen and undiscussed – in other words, what was easily dismissed. How strong of her, in so many ways, and how brave, to remind everyone – friends and strangers alike – every single day, of the presence of her assault and her unresolved case. Of their weight on her. Of the way they shape how she lives her life. The first time I saw her in person was when it really hit me that she was the only person on that street whose burden was visible. Of course, that didn’t make any other passerby’s burden less real.

How differently would I judge people if I could see the mattresses they carried? How differently, if they didn’t have to swallow their words and go back inside to wait tables?

There are things I haven’t liked about myself lately – ways in which I have been distant or needy or angry or all of the above. Sometimes, of course, such emotions are justified. Sometimes though, they are a way of shouting at someone Can’t you see how long I’ve been carrying this thing?! when I can’t say it directly.

Most living things cannot survive too long without light, else they grow deformed. And there are some experiences which, if not brought to light, will fester and grow deformed within you. I am thinking tonight about Emma and her mattress, and the server and her friend – how scary it is for one’s suffering to be known, to be shared with another. How scary and how necessary. Please, talk to someone if you are hurting.

Summer ends, and we wonder where we are.

Hello, readers; hello, friends.

I have borrowed my title today from Dar Williams, with whom I associate a lot of hazy, undefined teenage feelings, appropriate to end of summer and to transitions generally. School is back in session, although having graduated in May, this does not affect me directly. I’ll pretend it does, though, and will write up a little homework assignment for your reading pleasure: What Did I Do On My Summer Vacation?

I’ve been quiet of late, at least online publicly. In my day-to-day life, though, I was constantly busy. Having graduated, there was now ample free time to catch up with friends I’d been out of touch with: squeezing a social life in between full-time work and school is not always possible. I took care of projects and chores that had been left hanging in the scramble to wrap up my last undergraduate semester. In August, I took some savings and traveled to Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, and London, to travel through the UK and Ireland with friends who live there. (It was wonderful, although all too short!) I’m volunteering with the People’s Climate March taking place here in New York on September 21st. (There are events happening globally Sept. 20-21, and I definitely encourage you to check it out! There are a lot of people passionate about climate change, social justice, and their children’s futures getting involved.)

And of course – I wrote. I published a number of pieces earlier this year on the topics that mean the most to me. Climate change, of course. Some experimenting with fiction. And memoir pieces dealing with the legacy of estrangement – a topic I felt honored to be able to bring to light and dialogue with many brilliant readers.

I’ve still been writing. I’ve also, at times, given myself some space from the need to write and to publish ASAP, whether here or elsewhere. My friend and writing mentor Liza Monroy posted this article “On Not Writing” on her Facebook feed recently. It helped me understand a lot of why I needed to give myself some space after the success of my initial pieces about estrangement.

The piece compares the mental exercise of writing to that of physical exercise. When working out, overtraining can lead to chronic fatigue and even injury. The message is clear: “Don’t work through the pain; it will only hurt. Give yourself sufficient time to refresh..”

I think this summer was my opportunity to refresh myself in a lot of ways.

And now summer ends, and we wonder where we are. I’ve accomplished my defining goal of the past 4 years by completing my undergraduate degree. I’ve started to think about what comes next in my career. I’ve rested and refreshed myself as I dealt with some of the aftermath of my intense writing exercises – the guilt that writing about my past was a terrible idea; the sustained sorrow of reliving painful memories; the anxiety of figuring of where to take it from here. If I am strong enough to build on this, to continue to explore.

Whether or not I am, I plan to regardless. Look for more here in the coming weeks and months.  And – thank you, for being who you are – for being strong and supportive and funny and struggling and loving and above all you. Many of you reached out to me to see how I was doing – thank you so much for that! I hope you’ve had a good summer, and I’d love to hear more from you. Now, it’s time for me to get back to work.