911

She died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-seven.

Everyone was shocked.
Sure she could have taken better care of herself, but she wasn’t the sort of person you picture
Dying at fifty-seven from a heart attack.
If she’d only realized what was happening and called a doctor she might be alive right now.
How can you not realize you’re having a heart attack?

Everyone shook their heads and said
“Well, you know how it is, women have heart attacks differently. That’s why they never realize…”

They won’t say it:
It didn’t feel any different than waking up in the morning had for forty years.
Her chest was tight, her lungs contracted, it was hard to breathe, her sternum pressed in and there was that ache…
Must be a day that ends in y.

How was she supposed to know that this time the sob being forced through her body for no reason was her last?
Or that the buzzing filling her ears was cause for alarm?
And why should she have believed anyone would have taken them seriously this time?
No, it was just her mind creating “symptoms” to lure people into sympathy

To get out of something
Being a wimp
Imagining things
Causing a scene
Ignore it, and it will go away.

She died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-seven.
Everyone was shocked.
If she’d only realized what was happening and called an ambulance
She would have been fine.

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Expectations

My first attempt at (publishing) original short fiction. Credit for inspiration to: Frances Kimpel, Eileen Miles, and the band Belle & Sebastian. Content warning for the following: sexual harassment, sexual assault, lesbophobia/misogyny, lesbophobic slurs, and discussion of fatphobia. Views expressed by characters are not necessarily those of the author.


2006: The Inherent Embarrassment of Being Known to Desire Something

Jane had forgotten what day it was. She had also forgotten to set her alarm clock. And forgotten her lunch. And probably forgotten her homework for at least one class. She got to school late, her backpack bumping uncomfortably against her lower back as she ran from the bike-rack to the soulless double door.

She stopped dead as soon as she got to the hall. The second bell hadn’t rung yet, so plenty of her awful classmates were still milling around by their lockers. Every single one of them had a brand new yearbook. It was futile to hope that being at the end of the alphabet would save her until lunch. The smirks, snickers, whispers, and stares started immediately. She should have known better (did know better!) or at least remembered what day it was. She scowled, hiked her backpack up on her left shoulder, and stomped over to her locker. Some little shit who had set their alarm clock had beaten her to it. Some unholy mashup of her face, what a pleeb would think was a Picasso style, and an ejaculating penis graced her locker, along with the words “trash museum” and “bullshit artist.” She ripped it down and stuffed it into her backpack along with a forest of other crumbled loose papers, food wrappers, and the secrets of Nostradamus for all she knew. The dipshit’s face when she used it for her final project in post-punk irreverent dada revivalism (she was still working on the name of her movement) would be almost worth the rest of today. As she was putting in her jacket into her locker, she heard a half-suppressed giggle over her shoulder. She recognized it immediately as Jean. Slamming her locker shut, Jane stormed down the hall in the direction of her homeroom and the gaggle of blazer-clad preps clustered around her nemesis. She made sure to get Jean with her shoulder on her way by.

“Oh, they also posted mid-term GPAs today,” the Victoria’s Secret wannabe murmured as she collided with her. “So much for your scholarship.”

Jean surged past her, letting her panic and her anger burn the tears away before they could think about starting. Whatever. Jean could smirk all she liked here. She would pay for it later.

2006: The Truth, Stumbled Upon by Accident, Is Worse than the Curated Lie

It was a stupid question in the first place. Who the fuck asks 10th graders what they want to be remembered for? How fucking morbid is that? And what kind of loser answers that stupid a question honestly??? ‘I want to be remembered for: my art’ no wonder they’d fucked up her locker. She’d have fucked it up too. Fucking pathetic.

“JANE!”

She startled, realized all at once that she was slumped in her desk, her legs spread and bouncing, everyone was looking at her, everyone else had books on their desk open, and the teacher had probably called on her at least three times. She met the teacher’s face defiantly. At least she didn’t look like a desicated lemon.

“What.”

She was failing anyway, and this teacher hated her already (probably because she’d accidentally handed in the comic of her as a constipated bat instead of her book report on Kipling). Why bother pretending like she cared about lame chicks in maternity dresses crying over lamer dudes with big houses.

“What is Emma’s motivation for having her friend Harriet move in with her?”

Who the fuck was Emma and who the fuck was Harriet and why did she care?? Everyone was looking at Jane. She could feel the eyes burning into her. She hadn’t read the book. She hadn’t remembered the book was assigned. She’d lost the copy they’d given her. She heard Jean snort behind her as the silence yawned like a crater. In her most nonchalant and provocative tone, Jane responded “Emma’s a big dyke and she wanted Harriet to move in with her so she could suck her fat pussy.” The resulting chorus of gasps and chatter was music. Jane thought the teacher might have a heart attack on the spot. She sat upon her throne, queen of the chaos, for just a moment feeling a hint of the high that was 4chan persona in her real life.

And then the teacher recovered. Shame. She’d never seen a heart attack before. The teacher sniffed primly and bit out “see me after class” and immediately changed the subject. Jane’s attention wandered again, this time to her sculpture project in the studio: a life-sized neo-expressionist tribute to the Velvet Underground that she’d been informed she couldn’t use as her final on Friday since the school didn’t have a kiln big enough to fire a six-and-a-half-foot high piece. Maybe she’d smash it with a bat, fire the pieces, glue it together, and call it something like “scars of stinginess.” They’d eat that shit up coming from their charity case, and her mom would hate it because it wasn’t David or whatever. Though her mom would also hate it if she was sculpting hot dudes with their dicks out. Though less than she’d hate knowing her daughter was a lesbo in addition to being a total failure at everything. She grunted and mumbled her way through the “after class” admonition. Got detention. Again. Great.

2006: You Know This World Was Made For Men (Not Us)

Lunch was miserable. She was near the end of the line because Ms. Lemonface had made her stay late. They were serving the mac n cheese that she was 100% sure was actually plastic. But like… plastic made out of lactose since it made her sick. So she was in the middle of the future frat boys of America. Steve and Shawn  started in immediately. It was one of them that had drawn the dick on her picture, she was sure of it. She’d heard it all before, of course, but today she was not in the mood to hear them speculate on whether she had rugburn on her chin from munching carpets, if she did that because she was too stupid to know how It was supposed to work, if she’d eaten out the Provost to get in since it definitely wasn’t for her brains, on and on. They were almost to the front but still out of earshot of the lunch ladies when they started in on how tight she probably was, probably the weakest of their jabs. Dumbfucks didn’t even know what tampons were.

Her stony silence wasn’t, apparently, satisfying for them. Steve, out of nowhere, stabbed her in the butt with his fork. It hurt, and it was It. Jean whirled around and slammed him across the face with her tray. It was exhilarating. Even better than the shock she’d caused in class. She’d forgotten how good it felt to be in a fight. She had Shawn on the floor clutching his crotch and blood pouring from Steve’s nose before the teacher broke it up. It was the creepy music teacher, of course. And he hadn’t heard a single word that the boys had said to her, of course, and hadn’t seen them stab her with the fork, of course, and how did he know the blood on her uniform skirt wasn’t from her special time (he always said it like that) or from the poor boys defending themselves? He made her pick up the trays and utensils from the floor before she went to the office. Jean squatted to clean up the mess so he couldn’t look up her skirt. Fucking creep.

2006: Only Cowards are Careful What They Wish For

She was suspended for two weeks, pending a hearing on expulsion. Her mom had been called (at work!) to come pick her up early and “escort her off the premises.” Jane didn’t even mind. This was good. This was what she’d been waiting for, really. Two weeks and she wouldn’t even have to live in reality enough to pretend she cared about school. She didn’t want to be here, and now she didn’t have to.

2006-20013: Buds

They bloomed too soon.

How could they not have known that mid March was a trap? How could no one have told them not to invest their youth so precipitously?

But all handwringing aside, the fact remains: They bloomed too soon.

They jumped the gun with that haughty optimism peculiar to well intentioned fools. Flagrantly pushing themselves out into the world with arrogant abandon…

as if in their frivolous, ornamental hands rested the fates of so many,

as if they were so crucial that to wait with circumspect maturity would be a crime.

Disgusting in their myopic callowness.

And now, after an oh so predictable late snow, we shall have a blighted year and all because they bloomed too soon.

2013: So Damn Bright

Job prospects were not great. Job prospects for 20-something high-school drop-outs with a history of “mental illness” were worse, especially if you weren’t a barbie doll and couldn’t pose for every Deviantart freak, art student, life-drawing class, and outlet catalog that you could find like Jean could. Jane hadn’t even wanted to get a job, but her parents were over their useless failure kid, and it was get a job or move out. And she didn’t romanticize sleeping on park benches like she used to.

She’d woken up two hours before her alarm on her first day at the laundry service and watched the ceiling change color until the beeping had started, wailed itself out, then stopped. She couldn’t believe she missed school. But somehow, somehow work was worse. She missed her destruction, missed that moment when she’d been shining and powerful and full of nothing but glorious potential, the power at the prospect of being able to throw it all away, missed the prospect of obituaries that read things like “cut off in the bloom of life” and “girl genius tragically taken from us” and “had she not lost her battle, who can say how she might have transformed art, transformed us all?”

She wasn’t potential anymore. She inertia and toxic waste. Washing lazy bitches’ sheets. In ugly “practical” shoes. Getting her ass grabbed by fucking Joe.

It gave her a sick, distant satisfaction that she wasn’t the only one from her prep school that hadn’t become president or cured cancer or whatever. Veronica worked in the laundry too. She hadn’t lost any weight since her days of ignominy as the high school fatty, but somehow it suited her better now. There was a nobility about it, a paleolithic luxury in a sea of dingy compactness. They hadn’t been friends in school. It would have been suicide: the weirdo poor kid teaming up with the chunkster. Veronica’s speech impediment also hadn’t gone anywhere. Jane wondered if that was why she was working at a laundry despite her college degree: nobody wanted to hire the fat girl with the lisp. Turned out it was to afford rent so she didn’t have to live with her parents while she worked freelance for different literary journals. Jane admired that. Turned out there was a lot to admire about Veronica, who was, in addition to being a writer, a prankster, and decidedly not to be daunted by a world not made for her. And she was the only person Jane had ever seen who was able to get the kind of bitchy rich white lady who sent her equally bitchy kids to their old school to apologize to a laundry worker. Maybe they should have teamed up earlier.

2013: Factory Girls

They would share warm beer and cigarettes that Veronica kept in the utility box behind the laundry during their lunch. Jane had started smoking hoping for lung cancer when her quest for something better than the reality of 21st century mundanity had failed. Veronica had started in school as a failed bid to lose weight. They made out for the first time after they switched from Pabst to something called an “Imperial” IPA and got more drunk than they’d meant.

It felt good. Better than anything Jane had felt since she’d made a perfect swan-dive into what was supposed to be the 27-club, and realer, grounded. And that didn’t scare her anymore.

She’d spent the whole night after that rolling in dreams of Veronica, her tight curls, her commanding, unyielding face as she stared a client into submission, the way her uniform shirt bunched on her arms. They’d gone to what was probably the shittiest bar in town after their shifts ended. Four rounds and they were making out again in the alley.

2013: Love in the Time of the Great Recession

The cashier at the art store looked exactly as hungover as Jane was when she went in the next morning, for the first time since she was 16, to buy clay.

May Day: Solidarity in Free Fall

Yesterday I went to two different May Day actions in my city. Both were organized by Cosecha, who has been trying to build momentum for a general strike shutting down the economy to demand permanent protection and dignity for all immigrants. I listened to many powerful speeches, and marched through the streets with the others who came.

I left despondent.

I left despondent because of who showed up, who didn’t, how we showed up, and why more of us didn’t show up in a more meaningful way. In April, I was watching archival footage of May Day parades from the 30s and 40s. Tenant associations, unions, religious groups, and neighborhood voluntary societies showed up in force as blocs and marched with banners prominently proclaiming themselves and the organization they came as a part of as a social unit throwing its full support behind the message of workers liberation. Yesterday, we had no blocs. The unions didn’t show up en masse or in force. Some people who happened to be union members were there. Some people who worked for unions were there. Some unions got really involved and even sent official representatives, some even sent ten people in matching union shirts! Disability Rights did not show up for immigrants, for labor, or for liberation yesterday. Again, there were people (like me) who work in disability rights, who were there. There were disabled people there. We didn’t even send representatives. The big LGBTQ organizations and Queer/Trans Liberation organizations were not out in force as blocs to show that the full force of our community is behind immigrant and labor liberation, though many many participants were LGBTQ and/or affiliated with those organizations. Radical and progressive Jewish organizations didn’t show up, though I know there were many radical and progressive Jews, myself again included, who participated. But there was no column behind a JVP banner marching uncomfortably next to columns behind If Not Now, Moishe Kavod, Temple Israel, and Workman’s Circle banners, all chanting for immigrant rights. This despite the fact that many local shuls have become sanctuary congregations, and many have been deliberately and directly partnering with Cosecha. We just had two separate rallies for environmental groups, one “for science” and one for “climate,” but it’s the same group. Environmental groups and “organized” science did not show up to throw their weight behind immigration justice yesterday, though I’m sure there were individuals there from those organizations… I could go on with this list, but I think the point’s been made.

The solidarity between different affected groups yesterday was nonexistent. Part of this, I think, stems from the administration moving against so many different issues at once. We’re overwhelmed. Labor has to throw all its weight against Right to Work and health care repeal. Disability Rights can barely manage the fight against ACA repeal, ADA gutting, and our state governor trying to take away accessible transportation. Environmental groups are looking at a boss match, Latinx groups have to deal with the deportations and the wall, Muslim groups have to deal with the deportations and the ban… all of our houses are on fire all at once, and we are each struggling to save our own house, to not burn. Meanwhile, the entire block is going to burn down. I know my own organization has taken the position that, unless it is a direct disability issue, we can’t take it up. If it’s something we support, we can sign on to a letter, we can send a representative to an action, but we can’t take it on ourselves, because we simply don’t have the capacity. I don’t have a solution to this, but I can’t believe it’s a legitimate excuse for the way we all failed to show up yesterday.

We have also let individualism get the better of our activism. We need to stop thinking about whether or not we are going to a protest, and start thinking about what organizations we belong to that should be at that protest. We need to show up as individual allies, yes. But it’s more powerful and more meaningful if we bring all our coworkers, our entire union chapter, our entire congregation, etc, and, as a group, proclaim to both those we are there to support and the public, that our workplace, our lab, our shul, our resource center, our community organization, our union chapter, stands with immigrants, stands against deportation, stands against bans and walls. That is what lets bigots know that they are not welcome in our spaces, that is what lets politicians know that to secure the voting blocs that are congregations, unions, ILCs, LGBTQ groups, etc (and yes, they do see us as voting blocs and, when we act, fear us accordingly), they must support full dignity and protection for ALL immigrants, and that is what lets vulnerable people know that this union, this church, this rights organization, this community center, is where they can go for support. Showing up as an individual does nothing to broadcast which places are safe. When our organization don’t show up as organizations or just send representatives, the message we send is that this is not a key issue for us, and that we, our union, our ILC, our collective, will not take major risks or lay out major resources to protect immigrants. We are sending the message that we won’t, when it comes to it, really fight.

Overall, as a strike day, yesterday was, sadly, a failure. Those of us who had the privilege of taking off from work did. Everyone else went to work. This has been a consistent problem in the various “day without a ___” actions this year. In my opinion, it’s because the concept is fundamentally flawed. A strike, traditionally, has had a specific, concrete demand that, if achieved, would significantly materially improve the lives of the strikers or, if not achieved, would be a disaster to the lives of the strikers. The organization planning and leading the strike (usually a union) provides a measure of protection to the strikers in the form of a strike fund to help them pay their rent and pay for food while on strike. It’s high-risk, high-reward, but with some protection. In contrast, the “day without a ___” protests are extremely high-risk with no reward. They’re about making a statement which is usually fairly vague so that it can appeal to a broader base. The closest any of them have gotten to specific demands are “stop the deportations” and “full dignity and protection for all immigrants.” Both of those would be great things. However, there is not a specific provision that would bring those about for which the organizations are fighting. Whatever your opinion on our political process, pragmatically we’re more likely to get what we want if we can spoonfeed the politicians a solution. These pushes offer no protection to those participating. “Day Without a Woman” didn’t have any way to compensate participants for lost wages. As far as I know, neither did yesterday. What wage worker in a major urban area in this country can afford to lose an entire day’s pay to make a statement? On top of that, some jobs will just fire you if you don’t show up, and reactionaries have been assuming that any immigrant (or, really, any POC) who participated yesterday or in Day Without Immigrants must be undocumented and I wouldn’t put it past them to call in anonymous tips. Who can risk their employment or, G-D forbid, a visit from ICE, just to make a statement? In the cost benefit analysis, for the overwhelming majority of people, it’s just not worth it. These make-a-statement-days are easy to say you’ll support, easy to put a star next to on social media, easy to spread, but nearly impossible to commit to. We need, and I believe we are capable of, a better strategy.

Speaking of solidarity, May Day, and Jewish organizations showing up as Jewish organizations, a word about Antisemitism. The history of western Leftist movements are decidedly, undeniably, Jewish. The early history of the labor movement in this country is indubitably Jewish. Yet the only speaker who mentioned either Jewish contributions to this movement, Jewish connection to May Day, or Jewish oppression was a young man with Jewish ancestry who was not invited up to the podium as a Jew. We heard from anarchists and communists about the great “european” leftist martyrs. Many of the names they listed were certainly Jewish names, and I’d be shocked if none of them would have been insulted by being called european. A gentile union organizer even had the gall to claim that the main reason Nazism is dangerous is the threat it poses to organized labor. Meanwhile, many of the city’s Jewish organizations are working very closely with immigrant and refugee organizations on their goals. Erasure of Jews from the history of the left, and erasure of our current work on the left, is Antisemitism. Not only that, it allows antisemitic beliefs to run unchecked in leftist movements. It keeps us and our organizations out of the movement. In no way are American Jews doing enough to combat capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, ableism, or militarized nationalism. We can and should always do more, and we are lucky this time in that we are not the first name on the target list. But that is no excuse for those who march in a tradition created largely by us to pretend that we never existed.

Power versus Behavior

There’s a problem in progressive/liberal/hippie, and even in centrist, circles that I’ve been struggling to see as a problem and to name for a while, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.

We’ve gone from critiquing behaviors attached to positions of power to critiquing behaviors. This creates false equivalencies, and results in the people these critiques were originally created to help being equated to their oppressors while said oppressors get to feel validated in their feelings of fragility.

(ok monstrousjoy, that was a lot of big academic jargon words in one sentence, but what the fuck does it actually mean?)

Here’s an example:

We have collectively realized in recent years that men talk a lot more in group settings, and get called on a lot more by facilitators, than women, and we’ve recognized this is a problem, and decided that gender parity in amount of words spoken is a good thing to strive for. However, we are, for some reason, uncomfortable saying, for example, “I’ve been hearing a lot from the men in this group, let’s hear what the women have to say.” What we say instead is “let’s hear from some people we haven’t heard from.” The problem being highlighted is no longer male entitlement and male dominance, but the fact that some people talk a lot.

First of all, why don’t we feel comfortable saying “So far this conversation has been dominated by men. How about just women speak for the next ten minutes?” or, for that matter, “the white people in this group have been taking up too much space. For the next ten minutes, I want all whites to listen to what people of color have to say instead of speaking?” Why are we so afraid to name power dynamics within our own groups? Perhaps it’s because to do so would be to admit that our own groups are not immune from the forces of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc that we claim to want to eradicate in larger society. Perhaps we have yet to shake the notion that naming power dynamics is somehow impolite (a notion that in itself serves to reinforce and protect such dynamics), or maybe we are afraid (sometimes rightfully so) that the people in the group with power will be offended, and we’ll be putting ourselves and the other marginalized people in the group in a dangerous or uncomfortable position by setting off the volatile combination of power+fragility.

We may also be clinging to a false liberal ideal of equality, where equality, in the case of the example, means that everyone gets the exact same percentage of airtime, and the real problem, the threat to equality, is that some people talk more than others, not that one class of people feels that their words are inherently more valuable because they belong to that class, have been conditioned to believe everything they say is worthwhile, and that they are entitled to space to speak and a rapt and deferential audience when they do. This erroneous conception of equality and the threats to it are what lead people to thinking that reverse sexism is real, or that a woman shouting profanity at man (who otherwise has all the same social positions as she does) in the street is part of the same societal problem as catcalling.

Now, many self-styled progressives understand that there is no such thing as reverse sexism, and that a woman shouting “asshole!” at a man for stealing her parking space is not the same as catcalling. Yet these are the same people who frame group problems as being about people talking too much (as opposed to men taking up too much space), or sitting with legs open on public transit (rather than men taking up one and a half seats, and refusing to budge even when someone sits next to them). This reinforces systems of oppression while making us all feel like we’re holding each other accountable. It’s bullshit.

I’m a butch(ish) white Ashkenzi Jewish woman who had to navigate southern WASP spaces growing up. I have learning disabilities and I’m neuroatypical. I have had the way I speak, the amount I speak, the way my body occupies space, etc, critiqued as “too much” or “undesirable” since I could speak and position my body. White, straight, gender conforming, neurotypical cis men, on the other hand, are given the messages that what they have to say is valuable, how they say it is in keeping with their emotions, which are always acceptable and important, and that they deserve exactly as much space as they feel like taking up. When we frame the problem of who speaks more not as a problem of power but as a problem of personal behavior, those of us who have been conditioned to be hypercritical of our own behavior and always see ourselves as the problem/invalid/inappropriate/not valuable are enabled in our own self-silencing and self-devaluing habits, and those of us (the most privileged and powerful in the room) who have been conditioned to see themselves as inherently valuable and who feel victimized anytime their hegemony is eroded will also be enabled in their own problematic behaviors. “Everyone be aware of how much space you are taking up! Before you speak, ask yourself, ‘why am I talking :)!'” serves to encourage those used to being told to shut up to shut up, and those used to thinking they have every reason to dominate the conversation to dominate the conversation. The women in the group here “remember, nothing you have to say is valuable, so be quiet so the important and smart people can talk!” while the men hear “your points are valuable, and therefore you deserve to speak and shouldn’t feel like a bad feminist because of it.”

Critiquing behavior will always serve power because it serves it shield power from critique. Behaviors are all neutral, all contextual, all dependent on the who/how/when/where/why. To pretend otherwise is to be complicit in power’s double standards masquerading as true equality. We don’t want to believe this. It contradicts the simple ethics we were taught as children. Sharing is good, yelling is bad. But when a teacher demands that a child receiving free lunch “share” their fruit with the child whose parents pack them meals from Whole Foods because the rich child likes apple slices better, we should be able to recognize that sharing, in this case, is not a positive good. When the woman of color snaps in class and lets the rich white man have it, we should also recognize that yelling, in this case, is good. Behaviors become negative when they serve to reinforce oppressive systems, and when they do non-productive harm. What I mean by this is, sometimes a privileged person needs to have their feelings hurt in order to grow. Sometimes an abuser needs to be hit for their victim to escape. To label behaviors as always good or always bad limits the ways in which marginalized people can stand up against their own oppression, and rarely results in meaningful critiques leveled at people in positions of societal power.What makes speaking at length with conviction a problem is that straight white cis abled men use it as a tool to silence and invalidate others, and that they are given credence (and feel entitled to it) even when they have no evidence or knowledge to back up their assertions, not the fact that anyone could speak longer than anyone else, or that anyone’s conviction might make it difficult to form a worthy counter-argument in the moment. A woman, whether or not she is wearing a tie, and especially if she is Black, does not “exercise male privilege” by speaking at length with conviction on a topic on which she is an expert. In fact, she disrupts systems of sexism by doing so. A woman whose body occupies space differently because of disability and/or fate, especially if she is black, regardless of her hair-length, does not “exercise male privilege” by not having her legs primly crossed at all times. She defies enforcement of misogynistic body policing. Unless we go critiquing power, rather than politely critiquing behavior, we stand in very real danger of regressing in our beliefs around what is and is not appropriate for marginalized people.

A Lexicon of Inconsistencies (or: A Boston/Brasstown Dictionary)

A Run:

  1. Something that one goes on. A popular form of exercise. Can be performed anywhere, though areas featuring trees and/or water are preferred. Can require many accoutrements. Hazards include: damage to knees and an annoying moral superiority. Can also be a social activity.
  2. A way of tying up a dog without being cruel. A long rope is tied at five to six feet up between two trees, or between a tree and a house. This rope should be at least three yards or so long. A second rope is affixed to this so that it can move easily along the first, and hangs vertically down around eight to twelve feet in length. to this is affixed a leash, and to this the dog. This allows the dog to run around outside without running off or into the road or after any animals or people.

Barbeque:

  1. Any gathering involving the use of an outdoor grill. Usually involving Hamburgers and hotdogs.
  2. A sauce. Can be gotten in mass-produced form at supermarkets, or, for significantly more, in fancy small-batch form at farmers markets and pop-up shops. It comes in a variety of flavors.
  3. Really delicious Korean Chicken
  4. A style of meat preparation, usually done on Pork, though there is a style for chicken. Preparation takes sometimes days if done correctly. Frequently a family affair. Sometimes involves an entire pig. Something for which one “gets a hankering.”

Cold Brew:

  1. A high-priced alternative to Dunkin’ Donuts Every Flavor Iced Coffee. It can be found in all the most pretentious coffee shops. Hipsters sip it smuggly, the bearded ones pushing their dubiously real glasses up their noses as they ask those sporting lipstick and rings if they’ve heard of cold brew before? An exciting new way to show off your coffee cred while you continue to delude yourself you are something better than a yuppie.
  2. Something I drank as a teenager at a small, incongrous coffee shop on a hill just outside of downtown Murphy, a curious placement. I would wait there for my dad to come pick me up after I got done with my shift at Lowes. The owner knew everyone’s name, and if she didn’t she became quite agitated. She would try out new drinks on her regulars. My standard order was the cold-brewed peaberry, to which I added soy-milk. It tasted like nothing else before or since: full, mellow, nutty. No hint of bitterness. Not like the proprietor. The customers would joke that she should sample less of her product. Maybe then we’d know fewer details about her divorce.

Cold Brew Tea:

  1. Even better for you than regular tea, way better than coffee. Soaked overnight in temperature-controlled cold water for eighteen hours, infused with local herbs and fruits, and just a little sweetener. You can get it at Whole Foods, or from a stall at the South Station Farmers Market, where it is sold by a pale, thin man in his thirties with a standard-issue not-your-average-beard, clad in a straw trilby (what is the point), a skinny tie, and a vest in 90 degree heat. Because of their special brewing process, it contains no acids and none of the bitterness, and retails for upwards of $4/cup.
  2. More commonly referred to as Sun Tea. Sometimes in summer it just gets too hot to even turn on the stove. Hot enough that you can actually fry an egg on the hood of a car parked in the sun. But you still gotta have tea. Take the biggest jar you can find (we always used an old bulk Helman’s jar. I never knew what anyone had ever needed that much mayonnaise for) and… oh about six or seven tea bags (Lipton works just fine, but use whatever you want.) and throw them in there. Fill it up with cold water (if the tap can even get cold on a day like this) and add some honey (we used the honey our neighbors’ bees made) and some mint from the bank if you feel like it. Then you just set it in a nice sunny spot for a few hours and let nature do the rest. Tastes like summer in a jar. No bitterness and crisp as can be. Tastes like summer in a jar. not to be confused with Sweet Tea.

Cornbread:

  1. A quick-bread made with cornmeal and sugar, as well as other ingredients. Makes more sense in muffin form. Could be a passable dessert with a lemon frosting.
  2. A savory bread served with lunch or supper. Contains no sugar. Used to sop up juices from messes of greens or beans, or gravy from meat dishes. Contributes to the heartiness of a meal.

Firewood:

  1. Something to buy as a novelty for the novelty of lighting a real fire in your real fire-place, or for your camping trip to Vermont.
  2. The primary method of heating in the winter. Usually placed in a Wood-Stove. Some people still cut their own. Some pawn class or engagement rings for a cord. If used correctly, can keep a house at around sixty-five degrees until spring comes.

Kale:

  1. A superfood. It’s sooooooooooo good for you. So much better than spinach. Put it in every salad and on every sandwich as a replacement for every other green. It doesn’t matter if the flavors or textures aren’t quite right together. A major component of both the macro and paleo diets. Never cook it, it must always be eaten raw for full slimming effect. Can be made into a smoothie for added health benefits, allowing kale to be the main component of all three daily meals. Can also be roasted and made into chips. This process removes the heartiness but allows one to feel like one is consuming potato chips, though in chip form kale does nothing to reduce one’s hunger, as potato chips would. Kale chips are marketed as a “guilt free” alternative to starch-based chips, though at upwards of $5/small bag this label is a bit baffling.
  2. Used to make a mess o’ greens if tragedy strikes and you can’t get your hands on any collards. Must be cooked until it surrenders, then about five minutes more for good measure. Makes great feed for pigs and cows, especially in winter, seein as it’ll survive a few good frosts. Dirt cheap, since you can’t pay it to stop growin and nobody really wants it because it smells so damn bad. Good way to tell if folks is poor is if they’re eatin it.

Mason Jar:

  1. A moderately expensive way to advertise how cool and quirky and DIY you are. Extra points if it has a handle, a stem, or a straw in the lid. Use them as conspicuously as possible: carry your kale and quinoa salad to work in it, use it to carry your cold-brew coffee, as your water-bottle… did you know they come in colors??!!? (For slightly more, of course) and even ceramics for hot beverages (you can’t fit a lid on it but it’s just so decorative, such a statement, you know?) See also: Chic.
  2. Primarily for canning. First you boil em (outside on the camp-stove, too hot inside) then you fill em with: jams (blackberry, blueberry, sour cherry, etc.) tomatoes, pickles (cucumber: dill, bread and butter, sweet, watermelon rind, eggs, pigs feet, chicken feet, beets, dilly beans, etc. you cin pickle jest bout anythin), beans, all that. Try not to burn yer fangers. Make sure there’s enough, it’s gotta last all year, store-bought stuff’s too expensive. As you empty the jars they become the cups you offer company to hide the fact that mostly you drink outta old yogurt and sour-cream containers because real glasses like Martha Stewart and your grandmother’ve got are too expensive. No sense wastin perfectly good cups, jest no need to show em. You’re alright bein poor but jest not that poor. When you move up north all your yankee friends make fun a ya fer drinkin outta jars til Martha herself starts to doin it. You wonder if maybe them goverment people hit her harder’n she’s lettin on.

Mobile Home:

  1. A new, exciting way to live simply. You can experience the freeing benefits of the Small Home at the same time as the freeing benefits of travel and the new nomadic lifestyle (made up almost entirely of descendents of those who persecuted nomadic peoples nearly out of existence). Eschew materialism by getting a custom-built small mobile home designed specifically for your comfort and for maximum efficiency. A great way to make a statement about how your generation rejects the conventional white-picket-fence priorities of the (white, suburban, middle-class) boomers for a lower-impact, less self-centered existence. Not to be confused with:
  2. That super trashy (and super funny) thing those super trashy (and super funny) rednecks live in. If someone is ignorant, poor, and rural, a good way to mock them is to suggest they live in one of these. Bonus points if they have a southern accent. Shameful. Something to scoff at. See also: Trailer, Trailer Trash.
  3. What several close friends, many old folks, and lots of other people in my town lived in. Affordable housing, great if you didn’t need much space. Some people also used them for business offices. Many of the double-wide trailers I’ve visited were kept immaculately clean, and housed very kind, thoughtful, family and community oriented people. A better, more spacious layout than most Boston apartments of comparable price.
  4. What the “park” made by unscrupulous developers down by Brasstown creek contains. They sell the double-wides in the flood zone to people who can’t afford anything else, or even flood insurance. Back before people knew about this place and developers drove up the price of land til people couldn’t afford to even live on their own, nobody lived down there for good reason. There’s a reason we say “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” But it does rise, and when it does, it takes all them little trailers with it. If they’re real lucky, nobody gets killed. Within six months those developers have got the debris from the flood cleaned up, new trailers, and a “for sale” sign out, waiting to fleece their next group of victims.

Ramps:

  1. The newest craze in upscale cuisine, especially at restaurants with menus featuring buzzwords like “seasonal,” and “local.” An unexpected flavor for the sophisticated palette.
  2. According to the Hayesville High School Code of Conduct, it is a suspendable offense to knowingly and willfully consume Ramps in quantity before attending class. As everyone knows, ramps produce THE. VILEST. FARTS. A Ramp Hunt is a fine, disgusting tradition in which boys will go out into the woods at night, dig up as many ramps as they can find, and make a big ole breakfast of em before goin to school to stink out a test they didn’t study fer. Now when I say stink out, I mean it. Get serval boys in a room with ramp-farts, people’s eyes are waterin, people are gaggin, it’s awful and you understand exactly why it’s banned. Ramps have ended marriages. Ramp-banning has been featured in pre-nups. It’d be funny that rich citified yankees were tryin to make em fancy if it weren’t like to cause an ecological problem. See, our creeks used to be full of ginseng, then city folks realized it was good for you and paid top-dollar for it. Now it don’t grow here no more. Looks like ramps are next.

Watermelon:

  1. It’s a superfood! At least I think it is? It’s so good in agua fresca! Just add it and some basil to your water or your gin (in a Mason Jar of course) for a great, refreshing summer flavor. If you eat nothing but watermelon for a week it will flush all the toxins out of your body. Your skin will never look better. See also: Cleanse.
  2. The cheapest store-bought fruit in the summer. Bring home three or four at a time. Eat a quarter at each meal-time. That’ll keep you goin… well, that and popsicles, for about two weeks. Hopefully by then this heat will break. Right now it’s just too hot to eat and we can’t justify the expense of putting in a A/C.

6%

The general humidity level in Brasstown, North Carolina this fall was 6%. We didn’t even know what 6% felt like. This was a rain forest. Books would become water damaged sitting on the kitchen table in the summer. Mold would grow on the leather boots sitting in the closet in June. It rained every day in July and August. My father kept a dehumidified closet in the basement for his instruments. He never managed to get the humidity down to 6%

6%

6% means that the remnants of a charcoal grill chucked out back cause a 200 acre brush-fire the night before Thanksgiving. 6% means families don’t know where they’ll spend Thanksgiving, or if they’ll have a home anymore tomorrow. 6% means boys playing with matches up on the mountain burns half a city and kills at least 9.

6%

When they finally realized it was boys playing with matches on Chimney Top, the comments section of the news articles mock the “stupid inbred hillbillies” for doing this to themselves. We used to burn our land. Every autumn, once the harvest had been gathered in, people would wait until the fall weather brought a rare week with no rain, and would light the fields up. It was God’s fertilizer. Often getting the land to burn at all was a struggle, it was still so wet. Putting it out was never an issue. Finding wood that was dry enough to burn always was. As a child I emptied the charcoal grill out back most days in the summer. We never worried. We never had to.

6%

Asthma rates were always appalling in the valley. To us it was normal. Asthma was something everyone had when they were young, like chicken pox, and that most “grew out of.” I suspect the reality is that most simply stopped running. 6% means the valley spent months choked with smoke. Students passed out sitting in class the air quality was so bad. The students having to be taken to the emergency room because the fires made the air in their classrooms toxic didn’t make the national news. Neither has the asthma epidemic. But as soon as a few sunsets in Atlanta were ruined, suddenly the New York Times was interested. How many babies will be born with damaged lungs in 2017? How many children will never breath right again? How many of them will wind up interviewed by the national media for an expose on the linkage of climate change and health crises in southern Appalachia? How many will be scoffed at by wealthy, educated, northern, suburban liberals as being just a bunch of lazy, fat, inbred, ignorant hillbillies?

6%

Water was everywhere. We’d joke about needing gills in the summer. Sometimes it would rain just because the air got too heavy. The soil was always moist, black, crawling, alive. The leaves dripped. There were lichens growing on the moss. Water ran in seasonal creeks in the ditches, turned our sports fields into marshes, formed vernal pools in almost every depression in the ground. The mountains were named from the thick fogs and mists constantly wreathing them. There were spirits in the hollers, and fairies in the river bottoms. 6% doesn’t believe in fairies. The number of rivlets, springs, and creeks would have been impossible to number. How many are gone forever? Like any rainforest, we abounded in micro ecosystems and biodiversity. 6% means many of those species have been wiped from the planet. This fall I marched in solidarity with hundreds for Standing Rock and wept as I chanted “Water is life with them.” 6% is death.

6%

The big corporations come in, steal land from the people living on it, employ them at criminal “wages” in criminal working conditions, strip them of their traditional land use… 6% started with blasting. 6% started with the strip mining. 6% came with the mountain top removal. They break our bodies to brutalize our mountains, dump their carcasses in the rivers to poison us, poison their sisters, haul their innards up to other poor, forgotten communities, and burn them to power your Lincoln Center and your Las Vegas and your MIT labs and your “city that never sleeps,” and the gas from the plants is carried back to the mountains. Our mountains return home to their sisters in death, as ash, as smoke, as poison. They return as ghosts of their final rage in the flames of a plant in Ohio, of their longing as they are carted on trucks to be burned, as their pain at being wrenched and blasted apart. They return to punish indiscriminately those who inflicted this. But those who caused it, who left us with no choice, never have to face 6%. But they sure love singing along to “Paradise.”

6%

6% means when the rains finally come, they will be deadly. As in any rain forest, the soil was thin. The trees held it in place, created the conditions that allowed everything to thrive. And 6% means they’re gone and there’s nothing to hold the soil. And when the humidity is no longer 6%, when the skies open, when everyone’s hair frizzes up and the air smells like rain, they will all run outside to welcome life from the heavens. Some will be singing hymns, or letting bible verses tumble from their lips, praising God. Some will just be laughing. Undoubtedly some in the tourist economy will still have the foolishness to curse the loss of a “beautiful day.” But 6% means that the rains won’t bring life. The charred, cracked earth will sigh, stretch, and then… slip. 6% will make catastrophic mudslides that can take out an entire trailer park in a night the new normal. How many of us will die, in the coming years, for these crimes? Will anyone care? Or will they go on singing “Paradise” next fall when once again the humidity plummets to

6%

We Are Commanded to Fast

Tomorrow, when I go to shul for Yom Kippur services, I will carry in my jacket pocket a power bar, a small handful of dates, and a few salted peanuts.

There are many interpretations surrounding our fasting on Yom Kippur. One of those is that it is a reminder that yes, we can abstain from things like food and drink; that yes, we can endure hardship and inconvenience; that it be a reminder for us on all other days when we make the excuse “I can’t,” or worse “I can’t help it.”

I grew up with a disability, one that I and my parents were fully ready to admit. However, nobody, not my parents, not my peers, not my teachers, and certainly not myself, was ready to admit that it limited me. Most parents of children with disabilities want desperately for their children to succeed, as any parent should. Unfortunately, their good intentions and society’s insistence on seeing people with disabilities as inspirations and not as real people combines to create a veritable cult of “yes you can.” There is a very strong anxiety that children (and adults really) with disabilities will be held back by their disability, or worse, will use their disability as an excuse to get out of doing things. Children with disabilities learn quickly that the good child never says “I can’t.”

The reality of the situation, of course, is sometimes we really can’t. For me, declarations of “I can’t” were met with a stern, wrathful insistence that yes I could, accusations of laziness, exhortations to believe in myself and try harder, and the punishment of not being able to do anything else until I had completed the task I’d just said wasn’t possible. Any stumble or failure to perform was met with a lecture that if I’d just tried harder, I would have done better, or an admonishment to see this a proof of why hard work was important. The fact that I hadn’t measured up to abled standards was on its own proof that hard work and I were not on speaking terms. I had the dubious honor of being labeled “gifted” in addition to having a learning disability. This meant that there were some things I was quick at, that I had a good working memory, and that I was good at making connections. With these talents came the assumption that I should therefore be quick in other areas as well.

There were only two ways to earn the honor of having tried hard enough. I could stay up all night working on something, but if there was an error in it, I shouldn’t have been so lazy. I could devote every bit of time I wasn’t in class or in the bathroom to my work, and a transposition in the final product would let everyone, and myself, know that I could have tried harder to get it right. I could run my body into the ground by not eating, not sleeping, not showering, and still, half delirious, wanting so badly to call it a night, it wouldn’t feel like enough. One way to earn the coveted “dayeinu” was to complete the task to perfection. The other was to run myself so ragged that a doctor proclaimed me truly unable to do any more.

For many people who grew up with disabilities, the threshold for what is good enough has often been what will literally make you ill, put you in the hospital or in bed for days. Working and pushing myself to the point where medical intervention became necessary was highly praised. It was proof of my dedication, my work ethic, and my determination. A good child never said “I can’t.” But when a doctor said it, then the child was extraordinarily good.

Last year on Yom Kippur, I came within a hair of passing out. The woman who looked after me and made sure I ate and drank until I wasn’t shaking and dizzy and could see properly and stand up again had no praise for me. She scolded me for not listening to my body, for pushing myself too far, and for breaking with the meaning of the day. I’d been raised to see doing exactly that as a mitzvah, and now I was learning that it was the opposite of one.

It’s mind-blowing when you actually realize what it means that everyone around you doesn’t have the same standard. Everyone else is not actually just better at hiding being in pain or disoriented or horrifyingly overwhelmed. Everyone else is not just better at dealing with it, tougher, better at time management. When other people are tired and have pushed themselves too far, they rest. I am still struggling to be able even to recognize when I don’t really need to just try a little harder, push a little farther, when I actually need to rest.

I also grew up poor. I learned quickly that a bad child is one who cries to be taken to the doctor when they aren’t in real danger. A bad child costs the family groceries, and heat, and work clothes without holes and patches, and working appliances by being whiny. A good child forgoes all but the most necessary medical attention, and the best child must be persuaded and tricked by their parents into going to the doctor instead of school when very ill.

On Yom Kippur we are commanded to fast, and we do so for a variety of reasons, and one of those reasons is to challenge us to say “yes, actually I can.” For me, it is also a test. It is a test of my ability to listen to my body, to know when it needs food and rest before I hit “too far,” to believe that taking care of the body and limits HaShem has given me is a much much greater mitzvah than neglecting them and punishing them for the purpose of pride and self-hate. So tomorrow, I will have a power bar, some dates, and some salted peanuts in my pocket, and I will make sure the restroom isn’t far.