Hazlitt Magazine

An Incomplete List of My Failures

After writing a novel that explored disordered eating, I needed to confirm the private truth I thought I’d discovered. Then I spoke to someone whose truth was far different from my own.

The State of Black Mourning

For the past five centuries being black has meant collectively experiencing grief in ways that the rest of society does not understand and cannot fully comprehend.

Lead Me On

Both holy and wholly her own, Amy Grant was the soundtrack to my rebellion. When my church rejected her, what I heard was, “You can’t be a believer and a woman who wants more.” 


An Incomplete List of My Failures

After writing a novel that explored disordered eating, I needed to confirm the private truth I thought I’d discovered. Then I spoke to someone whose truth was far different from my own.

[[{"fid":"6700206","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"1000","width":"815","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]Mouthful is a monthly column about the author’s relationship with food, ten years into recovery from anorexia and bulimia.I’ve been thinking about my failures, especially the ways I’ve failed other people. A year before my novel Binary Star came out, I began interviewing people for a nonfiction book about eating disorders. The protagonist of Binary Star is an anorexic college student and I had drawn heavily from my own history with anorexia to write her. I felt in my writing I was finally able to translate into language what I had been carrying around as a shapeless trauma. But once I was finished, once I’d satisfied myself with a psychological portrayal of the disease, I began to crave a more scholarly understanding.In retrospect, what I truly wanted was some authority outside of myself to validate what had happened to me. Having relived the trauma of anorexia in my writing, I wanted to verifiably attribute it to some cause other than an inborn deficiency—point to a reason that was larger than me. Give my pain context and meaning.I framed my project as a search for the biological and cultural roots of disordered eating because it seemed to lend the endeavor credibility. I began to aggregate research online and in books. Then I sought out interviewees.Over the next several months, I interviewed probably fifteen people who were struggling or had struggled with food. Some spoke on condition of anonymity, others wanted to take credit for their stories. Unsure at first whether the project would in fact be a book as I had planned—perhaps it would be a gallery show?—and feeling that, because of the subject matter, I should pay close attention to body language, I recorded the interviews with a Canon 7-D camera mounted on a tripod. I shot video. Most of the people I interviewed were friends, or friends of friends, but one of them wasn’t: M. She responded to a call I placed on Craigslist.*M. lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment near Hunter College. She was twenty-two and dreamt of studying marriage and family counseling, but was waiting until she was sufficiently along in her recovery from self-harm and binge eating disorder to apply for grad school. She began sneaking food when she was ten or eleven years old as a way to cope with her parents’ arguing. By then, she had already been told she had high cholesterol like her father and needed to change her diet. But her reliance on food escalated when her father killed himself that year. When I asked her why she turned to food during that time as opposed to some other outlet, she told me, “It’s just the one thing that I had.”For a few reasons, I was uncomfortable talking to M. I had scheduled the interview in the evening and then arrived late, which I feared made me look unprofessional. On top of that, my camera quickly ran out of memory. I made several attempts to fix it, and then called my husband, who told me that I had erased the previous interview files incorrectly after exporting them, and that they were still taking up space on my memory card. There was nothing I could do, so I recorded the remainder of the interview with my audio recorder.But also, I was uncomfortable because M. was the first person I had interviewed about overeating; all of the others before her had been anorexic, bulimic, or crash dieters. I felt that those interviews had gone well, even if I hadn’t decided yet how I was going to use them. I’d instinctively known how to steer the conversations. I recognized the stories I was hearing in my own.On the surface, anorexia is the opposite of binge eating. M. told me about the difficulty she’d had trying to replace ice cream with smoothies. That going to the supermarket was always a disaster, whether or not she went in with a plan to buy more nutritious food or a plan to buy junk. She told me that, in middle school, she’d hide in her locker the lunches her mom had packed her and eat junk food instead—and that, after a period of doing this, all of her school guidance counselors, along with her mother, had had to force her to clean out her locker because it was infested with bugs.At a glance, M.’s behavior was everything I would never do as an anorexic person. Alongside pity, a feeling of revulsion came from the part of my brain that reacts emotionally to food, that dissociates from painful feelings via hunger and is destabilized when the hunger is satiated and emotions come flooding back. It’s cunning and automatic; I’m not always aware that it’s been activated.The curiosity I’d felt in past interviews with individuals who’d struggled with restrictive eating disorders seemed grotesque, even cruel, in the context of M.’s story. Though her coping mechanisms were motivated by many of the same objectives as mine—at one point, she referred to her binge eating as a “slow suicide”—the questions I’d asked in previous interviews about goal weights and advertising and amenorrhea seemed unrelated to what she had been through. I had based my research on my personal theories about the origins of disordered eating, which pertained to my own experience, and though I performed objectivity, in actuality it was impossible. I needed something specific from M. I needed her to confirm the private truth I thought I’d discovered writing Binary Star. But her truth didn’t sound like my truth. Over the hour I spent interviewing her, I was often at a loss for what to say.*Near the end of our conversation, I asked M. if she had experienced any health consequences as a result of her eating disorder. “No,” she told me. “But I live in fear of them. I freak out every time my heart starts racing, that I’m having a heart attack, or my head starts hurting, that I’m having a stroke. Because I know that if I keep going like this, it’s a definite possibility.”I then asked her if she minded me asking how much she weighed.“Yeah,” she said. “I guess.”I paused, noticing that her tone was slightly defensive. This was not a question I’d asked other interviewees. “You don’t have to say,” I said. “How do you feel, I guess, about where you are today as compared to where you have been? Heavier or lighter?”“I’m heavier than I have been,” she said.“Is this the heaviest you’ve ever been?” I said.“Yeah.”“OK. Is there anything else that you wanted to convey?”“No.”“Thank you so much,” I said.That was the end of our conversation. I have no excuse for why I asked these questions at the end. I offer this story as an example of earning someone’s trust and then breaking it because I failed to acknowledge my own limitations. I had assumed the role of an expert but in fact would have needed to spend years researching in order to write the book I wanted to write. I gave M. the impression that it was safe to open up to me, and my last questions for her were exploitative and dehumanizing—I could see it in her face; she shut down. Her story had thrown me into a state of mind where old survival techniques took over: my anorexia needed a number to explain what it was hearing, to make it safe again. I was weak and unprepared. I fell back on bad patterns.I felt overwhelming guilt as she walked me to the door. I searched for anything to say that could undo the damage I had done, but there was nothing. I didn’t contact M. again. I abandoned the project soon after.*Recently, I went looking for these interview files in my old hard drive. I do this every so often: revisit failed projects to see if there are any coals still glowing in them. I searched through the contents of two former computers but could only find one interview file: M.’s. I searched through my email and was able to excavate a few more.Then I remembered that my husband had offered to store the interviews. The camera was his and he knew how to operate it better than I could, so he offloaded the files. He had more space on his hard drives than I had on mine, so he kept them for me. I texted him asking if he could send them to me but he hasn’t responded. My husband and I broke up three months ago. He now lives in California. We’re not speaking.We aren’t speaking because, in inexcusable ways, we have failed each other and ourselves. We’ve broken each other’s trust.We aren’t legally divorced, yet, because the paperwork is overwhelming to me and I can’t afford a lawyer. I’m also busy. The relationship is painful to think about, and yet lately it’s all I can think about. I want the split to be over and done with but the process is too much for me to handle on my own right now.I started seeing a counselor two weeks ago. For a day or two after seeing her, I find myself in a dissociated yet emotionally fragile state, given to weeping and drinking heavily. I’m familiarizing myself with the symptoms of PTSD. I can’t focus on a book or my writing, so I’ve fallen behind in my work. Today, I completely missed one appointment. I can’t sleep.In my everyday life, in small ways, I’m failing.I can’t speak for my husband, but I can say that I gave up too much of myself in our marriage. I know this because, now that I’m alone in the world for the first time—I haven’t been single for more than a few weeks since I was in high school—I’m finding it difficult to articulate what I want and need. Certain aspects of who I am are suddenly in flux. I’m finding that I haven’t known myself like I thought I did. I’m facing my shortcomings, and taking steps to change the less admirable parts of my personality. It’s daunting. It’s exciting.*In the midst of this, I started seeing someone new. She’s beautiful, kind, intelligent, and funny. We have great sex. We go on marathon dates to museums and the movies, eat oysters, drink Scotch, give each other much-needed massages, cook healthy meals, lie in bed for hours, make banana bread, and make coffee first thing in the morning after staying over. Last night, we parted ways, at least for now.We agree it’s for the best. I recognize my limitations, she recognizes hers. I need a lot of space and I’m enjoying being alone. I’m having a difficult time trusting new people. I’m interested in seeing people other than her. I’m not interested in traditional forms of commitment. This doesn’t align with what she wants and needs, and that’s okay. Letting go for now, disappointing as it is, is the most loving thing we can do for each other.*As a culture, we’re addicted to love stories that end at the zenith: the moment of the most intense connection, when pleasure hormones flood the brain and life is a constant orgasm. Love is offered up as a solution to every problem. We’ll never be alone. True love will never hurt us. Inside love, we’re safe, because love can save us. It can even save the world.Marriage is presumed to be forever. After we married, my husband and I drove to Malibu and sealed our vows inside a bottle, and tossed them out to sea. In our minds, they were promises made like offerings to the universe. Our marriage was a sacred bond between us, so pure, the purest form of love we’d ever felt. We thought it would last for eternity.In these stories, we never see what happens after the zenith, how we sustain this verve. We look to our cultural standards: love is a single-family home, love is having eyes only for each other, weathering every storm together, leaning on each other whenever we need support, raising a healthy family, never losing interest, finding each other perpetually fascinating. In true love, two people are everything, always, only for each other. If they can’t be, it isn’t love.In our stories, every moment before this sustained zenith diminishes in importance if it isn’t leading to the zenith. Eternal love is the goal. If you don’t find it, then you’ve failed. If you’re not even looking for it, then you’re missing out on life. Relationships that aren’t pointed toward the zenith aren’t significant. We shouldn’t take them as seriously.I want to propose an alternative story in which we can find love anywhere we want to find it, in any form. Right now in my life, I’m letting go of the zenith. The love I have in my life now is beautiful even if it doesn’t look the way I thought it would. Love is never going to act the way I tell it to act, anyway. That doesn’t make me a failure.I can let go of patterns that hurt me. I can let go of unrealistic standards. Now that I recognize these standards, I can choose to set my own. I can make new patterns that are healthy for me. I can be honest about how I feel. I can ask for what I need. I can let go when I need to let go. I will still be here. Love will still be here.*Before asking the questions that I regret, I asked M. about her earlier statement that she was waiting until she was sufficiently into her recovery to apply for graduate school. She had told me about the day when she hit rock bottom. She was struggling with self-harm at the time, along with her binge eating. “I’d gotten to a point where I ended up self-harming really badly,” she told me. “Not badly enough that I needed to go to the hospital, but enough that I felt like I’d reached a new limit that I never wanted to return to.”She emailed her therapist and told her that she was ready to try something new. Since then, she’d been taking antidepressants and working on identifying her emotions, and learning new ways to cope with them. I wanted to know whether she thought there would be a point when she could say, “Okay, now I’m recovered.” “I don’t think there’s going to be an ‘a-ha!’ moment,” she said, “but I think that there’s going to be a point where you have more good days than bad. And where you can get up in the morning and hopefully you’re not thinking about food, or you can say, oh I’m thinking about this but I’m not going to anymore, I’m going to move on.“I want to be able to say that I can fully handle this,” she said, “and feel confident in my abilities to cope effectively. That’s my goal.”Collage by Sarah Gerard.
Lead Me On

Both holy and wholly her own, Amy Grant was the soundtrack to my rebellion. When my church rejected her, what I heard was, “You can’t be a believer and a woman who wants more.” 

My older sister Jessie and I loved to dance in the living room to Amy Grant’s 1991 hit single “Baby, Baby.” Hopping around on the salmon-colored carpet as the hot Texas sun streamed in through the bay windows, we’d coo, “Baby, baby, I’m taken with the notion, to love you with the sweetest of devotion.” We synchronized our actions. Swinging our arms like they were cradling a baby and thumping our hands over our hearts. “Baby, baby, the stars are shining over you and just like me I’m sure that they adore you.” We spun and held our hands over our heads, wiggling our fingers, like twinkling stars in the sky.Homeschooled and raised Evangelical, we were sequestered from the world. We had no way of knowing it, but that year, every young girl was dancing to “Baby, Baby.” The song was a hit on both Christian and pop music charts, making Grant one of the first successful crossover artists. But I didn’t listen to pop radio. My siblings and I weren’t allowed to. It wasn’t considered godly. Instead, we danced alone on salmon-colored carpet, feeling like we were the only girls in the world—just us, Amy Grant and the thumping of our hands over our hearts.“Baby, Baby” was the first hit single from Grant’s Heart in Motion album, which was released when I was just nine years old. I idolized her, crimping my stick-straight hair every Sunday to mimic her moussed up curls. Grant rose to Christian stardom in the 1980s as a girl with a guitar from Tennessee, singing simple songs about Jesus. But by the early ‘90s, she was dressing in leopard print and singing about love, and not just the kind one had for their Lord and Savior. She was both holy and wholly her own. Grasping at success, reaching for something more than what she’d been given—Amy Grant was the soundtrack to my rebellion.[[{"fid":"6700196","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original"},"type":"media","attributes":{"alt":"Amy Grant - Baby, Baby","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]*During our morning Bible reading, I sat with my siblings at the kitchen table, our seven little faces popping up over the oak surface that was crusty with the remains of breakfast. Devotionals happened right before we began our day of homeschool. There, our mom read to us from the Bible, lingering over lessons she thought we needed. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” And: “Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but give a blessing instead.” (We fought a lot.)Another common lesson was from Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”There were many things not covered in this category of “excellent or praiseworthy”: the word “butt,” for example, or the covers of magazines that our mother flipped over in the checkout aisle of grocery stores, huffing to the shrugging teen clerk. “How can this be appropriate for children?” Before she hid them we saw patches of flesh, sultry lips, although other times there were soldiers without arms or legs. The Gulf War was happening, but we didn’t know—the news was not one of those “such things.”It also applied to the books on ghosts and witches I frequently snuck out of the library and hid behind the potted plants. “These are not good things,” my mother said, whisking a Goosebumps book from under my pillow. “These are things that will let the devil play with your mind.”Most importantly, this verse was applied to music. There was little music that met the Philippians standard held fast by the adults in our life—my parents, my Sunday school teachers and the parents of our friends. The music that was allowed was mostly classical, though there were also contemporary Christian artists such as Petra, Twila Paris and Michael W. Smith, and a few secular exceptions—The Eagles, The Beach Boys, Carole King and James Taylor. These were holdovers from my parent’s pre-Christian years. Little pieces that they couldn’t let go of.“You don’t have to sing the name of Jesus to be a holy song,” my mom told us as we danced, polishing mirrors and dusting lamps, to “Little Deuce Coup” on cleaning day. “But you do have to sing about good things.”My mom was a musician. She gave music lessons to other Evangelical kids from our church. As we sat in a circle around my mom and her guitar, we learned “I’ll Fly Away,” “The Old Rugged Cross” and “This Land Is Your Land.” The parents of the other children must have been blissfully unaware of Woody Guthrie’s socialist agenda, but my mom knew. I know she knew. I asked her about it years later and she laughed and winked. “Socialism? It was just a song about America, just a lovely song.”And so, even after the leopard outfits, after Grant’s divorce and her complete embrace of pop music, after she was banned from Christian book stores and all the other God-fearing homes around us, we still listened to her music. My mother knew about the controversy, but the music remained, slipping through the dissonance between the world she wanted to create and the world that was.*Six years before Heart in Motion, when she was only twenty-five, Amy Grant released Lead Me On, an aggressively mainstream album. The album was her first crossover success, due in part to the spunky rhythms and the soft pop melodies. The cover of the album shows Grant with big hair, jamming out in jeans, a modest blouse and a cougar print jacket. It’s so aggressively normal, the pictures could be photos from your ‘80s-themed nostalgia party.It was a deviation from her earlier albums, with their quiet songs about Christ and praises to the Lord. By contrast, the lyrics in Lead Me On rarely mention the name of God. For many Evangelicals, this fact alone was akin to Peter denying the Lord all three times. Add in her sultry eyes and a shoulder peeking out from an ‘80s-styled sweatshirt, and the album caused ripples across the jean-jumper, Bible thumper crowd.That year, in Rolling Stone, Grant recounted nude bathing on the beach and confessed that she wanted to be more than just a Christian singer. “I mean, everyone’s got something to say,” she said, “but I feel like I have something really good to say. It makes me want a lot of people to hear.” And it was this, her simple desire to be heard, that made them ultimately kick her out. “How could she be a Christian?” Adults and my older sister’s friends would say in church. And what I heard was, “You can’t be holy if you are a woman who hungers for more.”For a pop star in the 1980s, this was all tame. Madonna was burning crosses and singing about being “like a virgin.” Pat Benatar was calling love a battlefield, and it’s safe to assume that her idea of a battle was not a fight to keep herself pure for marriage. And of course, Annie Lennox was strutting about, looking like a man (grab your pearls). For the rest of the world, Amy Grant was the patriarchy—her soft pop tunes were what other women rebelled against. But for a girl home-schooled and raised in a conservative Evangelical community, Amy Grant might as well have been Andrea Dworkin—radical, aberrant, and frustratingly idiosyncratic.*After we had polished off the post-church lunch of brisket and rolls and the kids had gone off to play kickball, while the mothers cleaned up the dishes, I often lingered to hear the fathers talk. They discussed theology, what was happening a few miles away in Waco, which Clinton was the anti-Christ and the dangers of Amy Grant.“She’s compromised her Christian witness,” our pastor said, wiping brisket grease from his lips. “She is dressing immodestly and she is putting fame before Christ.”I was insulted and immediately felt defensive, but I knew better than to say anything. The last time I had asked this pastor a question about the nature of God, he laughed, patted my head and said that the job of a woman was to “just believe and submit.”I understood in that moment that by wanting to defend Grant, I had failed, but that perhaps I wanted to fail. I wanted to be good, but I also wanted to be heard. I wanted more than to just believe and submit. When you aren’t allowed to speak, you try on the words of others. For so many years, Amy Grant’s songs were my voice.From then on, when I found myself sent to my room for mouthing off, for questioning, for reading Goosebumps, I’d shove my face in my pillow and cry, dramatically sobbing out the words to “Father’s Eyes.”I may not be every mother’s dream for her little girl.Grant goes on to sing that despite her failings, she has the eyes of her Father, God—eyes that find the good in things, eyes that find the source of help, eyes for love, compassion. It’s a sentimental song. But that sentiment gave me the hope that perhaps I wasn’t all bad. Perhaps, I too could be redeemable.*That summer I was nine, my older sister had her friend Esther over to play. Esther’s parents were followers of Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles, now made famous by the Duggars. Esther always wore skirts and her hair was long. She’d once told me that my short bob was a sin. When my sister went to put on “Heart in Motion” so we could teach her our choreography, Esther left the room crying. Our mom came back with Esther and explained that her parents didn’t want her listening to Amy Grant. Amy Grant was a sinner. She was compromising herself for her ambition and she was too “worldly.”I remember rolling my eyes at Esther and her tears. “Does everything have to say the word God to have God in it?” I said. Esther cried harder and my mom called Esther’s mom and had her picked up.Esther’s parents and our pastor weren’t the only ones criticizing Amy Grant’s worldly appearance. In Christian circles, “worldly” is shorthand for being of the world. In Romans 12:2 the apostle Paul encourages Christians not to “conform to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Many Christians interpret this invective as a call to eschew popular culture. When Cabbage Patch dolls were popular, many of my friends weren’t allowed to have them. Same with Teddy Ruxpin and listening to New Kids on the Block. Engaging in popular culture, we were told, was like shaking hands with someone who has a cold—just by being near them, you risk exposure. And for the faithful, it’s not your immune system at risk, it’s your mortal soul.Only I wonder, thinking of us little girls dancing between the sunbeams on the salmon-colored carpet, if our bodies aren’t more complicated than just a simple input-output system dueling between good and bad. There on the carpet I see us—our bodies both awkward and full of grace. We’d leap and then fall, little bruises we never even noticed forming and healing all on their own. Tiny little scars, rug burns and scrapes, we’d wash in the bath that night and wonder how we got them. We were always bumping into things—bruises and freckles colliding on our bodies, evidence of days lost in sunshine and forts built out of sheets. Hours spent spinning and dancing to music we barely even understood. Those seven layers of epidermis holding in the entire universe of ourselves as we danced, thumped and fell in a little room that was both our whole world and only the very beginning of it all. So how can it be that just one thing corrupts or one thing saves? Perhaps our wounds and our healing are the result of many things seen and unseen, the ordinary miracles of falling and leaping up happening without us even noticing. Music at that moment was just an accessory of our joy. We couldn’t understand the backlash.Grant didn’t either. In an interview with People, Grant noted dismissively, “Christians can be sexy. What I’m doing is a good thing.” In response to the backlash over her flirting with a handsome man in her “Baby, Baby” video, Grant told Woman’s Day, “The whole thing just seemed very boring to me. Besides, shooting the video was a blast. It is fun to flirt if you’re a happily-married woman.”The video is very boring. In it, Grant wears modest clothes: a pair of shorts that fall mid-thigh, a dress that looks like it was plucked from a catalog for Fundamentalist Mormons. She laughs and does the chicken dance with a man. At one point they lie on the floor and roll a ball to one another. If that is a metaphor for something awful, even now as an adult, I’m not picking up on it.Grant’s 1998 song “What About the Love” feels like a partial response to the criticism. She sings of a meeting a preacher who tells her to deny sin, pray for forgiveness and tithe. In response, she wonders if that is the answer, “just the letter of the law?” The song is fast-paced and earnestly plaintive. “What about the love?” she asks in the chorus, a line that is repeated over and over.*That same year, in response to the uproar over Amy Grant’s worldliness, the Dove Awards—the Grammys for the born-again—redefined eligibility by defining what it meant to be Christian music. The songs had to be based on the scripture, Christian testimony, clearly influenced by a Christian world view and/or an expression of praise to God.Amy Grant’s best songs didn’t qualify by those standards—when it comes to Christians, even songs about heterosexual and monogamous relationships aren’t holy enough. I imagine stern-looking men sitting in a room, trying to decide how many times a song has to mention Jesus before it is holy enough. Five times? Six? What if they only mention God and not Jesus? Does that mean they are not born again? Does that make them Catholics? What if they’re Unitarian? What then? They open the Bible, parsing out scripture to find the answers they hope they are hidden in there. They use the Old Testament laws of sacrament like a secret code for translating the foreign world they find themselves in.What was behind the desire to take a girl with an unruly mop of curly hair and a jubilant enthusiasm for music and faith and make her into public enemy number one? What makes any of us into enemies? In my more petulant moments I believe only that it was because she was the bearer of a vagina and dared to be human. But in my better moments, I know that it is the grasping fear of someone holding onto the pieces of the things they understand, afraid to have to let them go and have nothing left, only that deep blackness that faith tells us to face but the laws of religion seek to control.I know this because I too hold onto my tiny pieces of knowledge, constructing small unstable worlds until they are toppled. What fragile worlds we create that they can be destroyed by smiling girls and their curly hair. How powerful those girls must be to destroy our worlds. Both things are true. The worlds we create crack, bleed, and contradict, and in those fissures, somehow women live. But dissonance is not an easy place to live and so, in 1988, the rules were changed. Old lines reinforced. Territory marked. This is what it means to sing about God, they said, and quantified it for us all.1998 was also the year Grant got a divorce. For many Christians that was it. In their eyes, Amy Grant was not a Christian anymore and she never could be. A girl in my youth group, whose parents let her listen to Amy Grant, told us that perhaps Grant’s husband had been abusing her. There is little evidence to support that accusation. But I understand where her parents were coming from. That was, after all, the only “good Christian” reason for divorce. Maybe they wanted to exonerate her. Maybe they wanted to protect us. But few Christians in our circle tried to defend her.There was speculation that she had been having an affair for years with Vince Gill, the man who would become her second husband. This rumor still circulates. Often-cited evidence for this theory are the lyrics of the Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant song, “Faithless Heart,” which talks about temptation and adultery. I often wonder why Michael W. Smith never faced this same scrutiny. Why is this song not evidence of an affair he had? The answer is obvious—he was a man, his job was a worship leader.Like Grant, Smith also tried to become a crossover artist, releasing “Go West, Young Man” and working with Jim Brickman on “I Will Be Here for You.” But he wasn’t as successful. Maybe that’s it: Amy Grant was a beautiful woman, she was successful, she didn’t hide her ambition, and she didn’t apologize for making a modest dress look sexy. She did more just believe and submit.*Like Grant’s, my revolutions were as equally bland as they were radical. I went to a college that was Lutheran, not Baptist. I watched the Vagina Monologues, I skipped school to play tennis and read The Communist Manifesto. I smoked cigars when I was eighteen, I said the word “fuck” a lot. I know, I know. I kissed a boy I barely knew at a concert. But most revolutions happen in inches. They might appear small but they are no less fundamental. Amy Grant became the vehicle through which I was able to see myself as something more than the lines of orthodoxy that had been drawn around me. Grant was a woman with ambition, true, but she was also a girl who just wanted to sing about her faith and her God, and somehow wound up inside a revolution. I felt that way too. I was just a girl who wanted to read books, and somehow that forced me into a fight I hadn’t bargained for. What we both learned was that finding joy always seems to be a political act for the women pursuing it.Today, both Grant and I have a home, we have husbands and children. It is so conventional and boring. Sometimes, as a married woman, I flirt with waiters. And yet, last year, I tried to reach out to some of my friends who were in the same homeschool group as me back in the early ‘90s. Almost all of my outreach went unanswered. Finally, a girl responded. It was Esther, the girl whose parents refused to let her listen to Amy Grant at our house.“I’m concerned,” she wrote, “about your life and the choices you’ve made. They seem so far from God.” I didn’t really know how to respond, so I didn’t. What could she have meant? The blue streaks in my hair? The profanities I dropped on the internet? Sharing links that advocated for universal health care? Or maybe the fact that I wear skinny jeans and lipstick and drink whiskey and still say “fuck” a lot. I’m sure there is a reason. But I am also sure that, again, I’ve stumbled upon the lines of someone’s orthodoxy. The pieces of the known that they are holding onto, afraid of letting go. I know because these things are my little convictions—these profanities my dogma, my hair a tenet of my belief. And life is full of colliding creed.I am not the first girl who has lost and then found herself in the lyrics of a song. And I won’t be the last. Everywhere, even now, little girls are dancing on living room rugs, twirling and thumping their chests to music. Who knows what those songs mean to them? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. Maybe the words will help them synthesize the disparate pieces of the world that they hold in their wiggling, dancing fingers. Maybe each chest thump will kick-start a small revolution in their hearts.
‘This Brave New World Has Some of the Worst Aspects of the Old Way of Doing Things’: An Interview with Doree Shafrir

The author of Startup on gender inequality, tech culture and the shifting world of journalism. 

In the fall of 2006, Doree Shafrir started writing for the now-defunct Gawker, a media site that came to life at the dawn of online journalism—shifting standards for how stories were produced and ushering in a new age of media consumption. Shafrir, now a senior culture writer at BuzzFeed, lived in New York for almost a decade, where she "worked for startups, wrote about startups, had a lot of friends who worked for startups."In her debut novel, Startup, Shafrir draws on her experiences from both the online journalism industry and the startup scene in New York to illustrate the current state of tech startups and the strange symbiosis between app-developers, venture capitalists, and tech reporters. The novel, a satire, is eerily on-point in its illustration of this universe—especially when it comes to gender dynamics.Hope Reese: Your novel illustrates the frantic pace of online journalism today. Can you talk about your own experience of this? And is there something specific to tech journalism that separates it from the media industry as a whole?Doree Shafrir: The first time I really experienced this was when I started working for Gawker. We had quotas for how many posts we had to do a day—I think I had to do six posts a day. Some of my colleagues had to do like ten or twelve posts a day. It was a lot more aggregation at the time, but still, that's a lot. It was just this sort of constant frantic-ness. Once you'd finished something, it was, "What are you going to post next? When is it going to go up? Are we late on this?" There was a lot of pressure to have stuff up quickly.Is it worse in tech journalism, specifically? I mean, I don't think it's better. It's something that is endemic to online journalism, certainly. One thing about tech journalism is that it is a pretty insular world, in the same way that a lot of other areas of journalism, like music journalism or political reporting, are. You know all the people in your world, and I think there's just a lot competition within each circle.If you had to give advice to someone entering a career in journalism, like the character in your novel, Katya, do you say, "Okay, go compete, and you have to be fast”? How do you navigate that world if you're twenty-four years old today?One thing that we're seeing now is the industry is changing really fast. When I started at Gawker, the shift from print to online was still not complete. Obviously, Gawker was always just digital, but there was still this question: How long will Internet journalism be around? How much do we have to invest in it? So it wasn't taken very seriously by a lot of companies. A lot of websites were considered second-tier, and for people graduating, there was still this idea that going into print journalism was more prestigious.Of course, that all changed pretty quickly, and you're seeing a similar thing now with video. There was a lot of skepticism about video. People thought it wasn't serious, or that online video wasn't ever going to be invested in as much as TV was. All things that remind me a lot of what people were saying about online journalism ten years ago.Companies are laying off people who are only writers, saying that they're going to concentrate on video. That's something that's been set in motion. It's just really important for young journalists to learn as many skills as they can, whether it's audio or video. The days when you can get away with just writing are going to be over pretty soon.And as someone who is just a writer, I see a world where I could be writing my own demise, but that's just reality right now.What made you set the story in New York? What's unique to that city's startup scene versus Silicon Valley?So, for one, I lived in New York for about nine years and worked for startups, wrote about startups, had a lot of friends who worked for startups. When I wasn't working for startups, I definitely considered myself startup-adjacent, and so pretty well versed in that world.I also thought it was a fascinating world that no one had really captured in fiction. So much of the pop culture around tech is centered on Silicon Valley, which makes sense because it is the epicenter––but Silicon Valley is also a place where tech is the only game in town. New York has this burgeoning tech scene, but there are so many other well-established industries in New York. Startups don't quite yet have the same social capital that, say, Wall Street or fashion or even media do. So I wanted to explore that tension a little bit.Do you watch the HBO show Silicon Valley? I've heard people in the tech industry say they can't watch it because of how on-point it is. Your novel is similar—it really captures the startup scene so well.I really enjoy Silicon Valley—I think it's so smart and funny. But it started as a very incisive satire, and now it's kind of hard to tell who they're satirizing. So much of the tech world in San Francisco and Silicon Valley loves the show—they even have cameos on it. It's like, what is the relationship between the "real world," and the show? And who is the show targeting?So, who is your book targeting, would you say?My book is targeting the startup world as a whole. And, particularly, men in the startup world. It's also targeting hypocrisy overall, whether it's coming from a man or a woman.People in Silicon Valley like to say that they "move fast and break things," and I want to show how that maybe isn’t the best way to conduct yourself. And there's this idea that what they're doing is just for the good of humanity, which can mask some not-so-great behavior. And that this supposedly "brave new world" has nonetheless taken on some of the worst aspects of the old way of doing things.You describe this "team spirit" workplace culture that demands coworkers engage in things like sunrise workout raves and pole dancing classes. How does this compare to what work was like when you were in your twenties?It seems like my younger coworkers are all friends, and they're always meeting up. There are always emails going around of like, "I need a new roomie." I know that some of them live together, some of them date each other. It just does really seem like their personal and professional lives are just completely one.That's not the way that I need to spend my time. But now there are more people at BuzzFeed who are in their thirties, even in their forties—and there's not the expectation that I need to participate in that kind of stuff. But if I were on another team where people were a lot younger, and the participation in these, let's call them "extracurriculars," was expected, I might feel alienated.Do you think this is a generational thing, or does technology have an impact on it? Tech enables it, no question. Instagram feels very aspirational to me. Tumblr is the place where you might go to be sad, but Instagram is the place where you go to show off all the great things in your life. I think that it's definitely exaggerated by social media.I think people do age out. A big reason the character of Sabrina in the novel feels so alienated is because she has two kids and a husband who's not particularly helpful, so she has to be home at six o'clock every night to relieve the nanny. So not only does she have to leave work earlier than all of her colleagues, but she can't go out with her colleagues after work. So there's a difference in lifestyle that has made it so that she really can't participate on this level with her younger co-workers, even if she really wanted to.Even though in New York, like you were saying, there is this extended adolescence, eventually a lot of people do get married and do have kids, and their lifestyles do change. So I think getting older does mean that you're probably not participating in these events as much as you used to.In Startup, everyone is constantly using apps, like a Tinder for apartment rentals, many I'd never heard of. Did you make them up? If so, some of the ideas are brilliant!Any that are not immediately familiar to you are ones I made up. That being said, several times, what has happened since I finished the book is I've seen stuff about apps that sound very similar to apps I made up. So it just kind of says to me that A, there are no original ideas and B, I wasn't that far off in my making up of these apps.You explore socio-economic status in the startup world. Can you talk about that?New York is really expensive to live, and yet a lot of young people want to live there. So it can be confusing as a young person to look around and to see your friends, who you know probably don't make more than $40,000, maybe $50,000 a year, and think, "Huh, that's weird—they have a one bedroom apartment in Williamsburg. How do they afford that?"There are these moments when you realize that your friend is an heiress, or has well-off parents who are paying their rent. It gives people this leg up, and they feel they're just entitled to it, but it makes it so much harder for everyone else. If you're paying student loans and you're not getting help from your parents and you are making $40,000 a year, how are you living? How does that affect your quality of life? How does that affect your mental health? How does that affect the kind of jobs you can get? How do you feel when your friend whose parents who are paying their rent invite you out to dinner and they choose a really expensive restaurant because they can just put their share on a credit card, and you don't have a credit card?Also: you always are jealous of the people who have more than you. From the outside, Sabrina is doing fine. She and her husband own an apartment in Park Slope. She has a job, her husband has a good job. They have all the trappings of a typical upper-middle class life in New York City. But all she can think about is her very successful friend from college who has a brownstone, and gets obsessed with her friend from grad school who wrote a best-selling series of books and is also super rich. There are always going to be people who have more than you, so one thing that I finally learned when I was in New York is that it actually will bring you down and impede your own success if you are just constantly letting that stuff get to you. It can really get to you. But if you're just always focused on other people you're not going to work on yourself.Same with the Katya character. Katya definitely sees herself as this scrappy outsider who went to public school, got a scholarship to NYU, lived at home. And certainly she is from a middle-class, even working class background—but she also has privilege that she doesn't always want to acknowledge.People are often blind to their own privilege, no matter where they land on the spectrum.In the novel, you illustrate two workplace relationships that turn romantic or sexual. What makes this kind of thing different in the digital age?I wanted to show how intertwined the personal and professional lives of people, especially people in their twenties, are now, and how a lot of those boundaries get blurred. And I wanted to show how there is a lot of this confusion, I think, especially in these companies that don't have HR departments. HR is often the last department hired, so you can have a 50- or 100- even 200-person company with no HR department—and stuff's gonna happen when there's no one there to say, "Hey, this is not supposed to be happening." I think that leads to a lot of confusion.I've certainly witnessed enough situations where an older editor is behaving inappropriately with a younger writer, and there's a power imbalance that, sometimes, the younger writer isn't fully aware of, or thinks she's in control of—and she's really not. I wanted to explore that.There's a scene in the novel, in a meeting full of men, where one guy says they're living in a "male-hostile moment." It’s a hilarious term—did you make it up?I did. Certainly, if men are having those conversations among themselves, I have not been privy to them—that's kind of what I wanted to get at, that this is just a conversation amongst men, and they feel very free to say things that you and I would be horrified by, and challenge. But everyone in that room is like, "Oh yeah, totally, totally, nail her."You see sentiments like that expressed on Twitter or Reddit—you know, men re-conceiving themselves as victims. I wanted that to be an aspect of the story, too. How the men in this story know that Mack's behavior reflects badly on the company, but they're not really saying that what he did was so terrible. They're just like, "The optics of it are bad, this is a bad moment for a white guy to be accused of sexual harassment, so you gotta kind of chill." But the actual actions are not really condemned.In light of recent allegations about discrimination against women at companies such as Uber and Google, the story feels especially timely.When I started it, the two big sexual harassment in tech things that were going on were the Whitney Wolfe Tinder lawsuit and the Ellen Pao Kleiner Perkins trial regarding a gender discrimination suit she filed against her then employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. I was kind of like, well, these situations are a bit at the forefront of my mind, but there was a part of me that was like, "Hmm, this book might feel dated by the time it comes out."So on the one hand, it's great to feel like the book is very of the moment and exploring new themes and issues that people are really talking about right now. On the other hand, it is really fucking depressing that this book is so of the moment. Why is this stuff still going on? This is crazy to me.I obviously had no idea that these sexual harassment allegations at Uber or any of these other places would come out and that people would really be talking about gender discrimination and sexual harassment in check and that it would still be such a hot-button topic. But when are we going to figure this out? Come on.
Featuring Vicky Mochama
The specific way men interview women (5:05), Rory Gilmore, journalist (17:17), and the Avril Lavigne riots of 2021 (48:27)
The State of Black Mourning

For the past five centuries being black has meant collectively experiencing grief in ways that the rest of society does not understand and cannot fully comprehend.

On March 15, 2014, my cousin Masud Khalif was murdered at a restaurant two blocks away from the building at the Scarborough intersection of Markham and Lawrence we both once called home. His killer later used Masud’s height, weight, and black skin as reasons he believed my cousin was a threat to him. This is how he justified killing him.Masud was my first cousin, but he felt more like an older brother to me. We grew up together. We went to the University of Toronto together. We spent endless nights together bullshitting our way through essays only a few hours before their deadlines. We shared friends, and countless memories. I actually almost always hated referring to him as my cousin, because he was so much more than that to me. When he would threaten ex-partners of mine or give me money whenever I was broke (which was almost always), he was like my protective brother. When we spent nearly every weekend together out and about downtown, trying to forget the stresses of our studies, jobs, or home lives, he was like my friend. He was always great for a guaranteed laugh.The last night I spent with Masud, we spoke about our futures. He told me that despite all odds, he was going to become a lawyer. He said this with a tone that was so matter-of-fact: you knew it would happen because he wanted it to happen. I always envied how bold and courageous he was, and how adamant he was about not letting anyone in this life tell him who or what he could be. There he was, a black man who didn’t let imposter syndrome dictate his destiny.In that same conversation he also spoke very matter-of-factly about my future: I was going to be a writer, and a good one at that. I was twenty-four years old at the time, with one degree under my belt, working as a personal assistant, and confused about who I was or where I was headed. I always dreamed of being a writer but didn’t know how that could happen, and it meant everything to me that he had hope for something I had completely given up on. There I was, a black woman who let imposter syndrome dictate her destiny.That night we ended a five-hour evening together with a grand hug. He told me why I was his favourite cousin. We exchanged some laughs and said “I love you” a few times before I watched him walk down the pathway of my house and onto the street.I felt uneasy.Two years later, in March of 2016, I walked up to a small podium in a York University lecture hall in Toronto with anxiety swimming through my body. I was there to give a keynote speech for the Black Futures Now conference. I had decided earlier that day that before I presented my speech I would ask everyone to take part in a breathing exercise. The room was dead silent, but the audience gave me warm smiles when I asked them to join me and breathe.Collectively, we inhaled in for ten seconds, telling ourselves that we were “breathing in the new.” Before releasing our breath, we told ourselves that we were “getting rid of the old.” We did this twice, and then I began my speech.I learned this breathing exercise during therapy in 2014 while I was in the process of mourning Masud. After the brutal murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both black men shot by police officers last year, I wanted us to practice this exercise together. I believe all black folks—today and for the past five centuries—are in a state of mourning.*A week after Masud’s death, I leaned on the hood of my car and watched a group of men place his body into a grave. I don’t remember what I was thinking at that exact moment, nor do I remember what went through my head when I touched his dead body for the last time at a Scarborough masjid, a few blocks north of the building where we grew up.For three months after Masud’s death, I had no real control over my thoughts or emotions. I would find myself crying at the grocery store while searching for ripe avocados because a Lorde song reminded me of that time we had dinner in my living room, arguing about what to play next. I found myself outside movie theatres frantically following tall black men, thinking they were him.I found myself doing things to my body and health I never would have imagined doing before. I thought things I had never considered thinking before. I flew on planes a lot for work that year, and for the first time, I felt no fear each time the plane would push off the ground—because I wasn’t afraid to die. “If it happens, I’ll see him again,” I would tell myself in every moment when a healthy, normal person would feel concern for their life. But “health” is a normative term, and I did not feel “normal.”After two months I found a therapist, and on a week-to-week basis, he taught me how to breathe again. I never felt like I was doing it right. I began writing, actively, for the first time in my life. After two months of breathing exercises, I quit my job, canceled my lease, and used my minimal savings to book a trip to Somalia. I had never been to Somalia, and didn’t know how to speak my mother’s tongue, yet I was convinced that it was a practical idea to move there. Months of depression had consumed me. I desperately needed to get away.*A janazah is a three-day period of mourning Muslims observe before we bury a loved one’s body. The first day of Masud’s janazah, my friends sat with me in a staircase in the building where Masud and I grew up. They were there for me—like black women always are for their kin and community—but they were also there for themselves: they too had lost a friend. One told me it would take a year of mourning before the pain would stop: one year for anniversaries, birthdays, and memories to pass. She said that by the one-year anniversary of his passing it would begin to become easier.So I counted for 365 days.Each day I searched through social media, calendars, text messages, and emails to remind myself of that particular date one year prior, and figure out where Masud had been. Did I hear from him that day? Did we hang out? Did I wake up to his loud steps in my downtown apartment?I would actively take a walk down memory lane each day. I would smile or laugh at our memories together before I would spend the night crying myself to sleep.By March 15, 2015—one year after Masud’s passing—I realized my friend was only partially right. When you are mourning, the pain doesn’t go away. It never does. But after some time, it eases: you learn how to live with it, but never fully escape from it. The only significant change I had noticed after one year of mourning was my breathing: the anxiety attacks began to decrease, and I found myself controlling them better than I was able to before.So here I am now, three years after Masud was killed. I’ve slowly figured out how to peel myself off the ground and continue to live life. But every so often I find myself back there again. Glued to it. Because mourning never ends. You learn to wear it everywhere you go.*Jermaine Carby. Dionte Green. Mark Carson. Dontre Hamilton. Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Michael Brown Jr. Tanisha Anderson. Tamir Rice. Jerame Reid. Tony Robinson. Phillip White. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Jonathan Sanders. Sandra Bland. India Kager. Andrew Loku. Alex Wettlaufer. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Too many more.When we see the faces of these men and women on our screens and their names in headlines around the world, behind each of them is a community of people—mothers, sisters, fathers, grandparents, friends, and loved ones—only beginning this process of mourning. They are experiencing a change in their breathing patterns. They will spend the next few days, weeks, months, or years learning how to breathe again.I asked that group at York to do the same breathing exercise I have done since Masud was killed because, in the wake of these unjust slayings, I believe these families are not alone in their loss. And I don’t believe you need to know a black person who was murdered intimately in order to mourn their loss. I believe you just have to be black. And I believe that outside of "improvisation, transcendence and resilience," the DNA of black people for the past five centuries has involved an intimate relationship with death and mourning. It’s an invasion of our collective spirits and ancestry.During the Jim Crow era, on average, thirty-nine black people were lynched per year in America, and during the worst year of that period, that number rose to 161. In 2015 alone, 258 black people were killed by United States police officers. The threat to black existence and black life has never ended, thus black mourning hasn’t ended; and so long as the conditions remain that ensure black people will die for or because of their blackness, so too will black suffering. Hundreds of black women across the Americas, in this moment, are suffering: they are reflecting on how they birthed, raised, loved, and then buried their children. Hundreds of black women are trying their best to learn how to breathe again.In the words of James Baldwin: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”When we as black people turn on our television sets and see a police officer chokehold a father to death for selling “loosies,” or shoot and kill a young black boy for playing with a toy gun in a park, we collectively experience a pain that the rest of society does not understand and cannot fully comprehend. They feel saddened while we mourn our humanity. We watch these visuals that are broadcasted endlessly and everywhere, constant reminders that we live in a society that believes our humanity does not matter. We carry the pain of those dehumanizing visuals and cries of “I can’t breathe” with us through our workdays and into our beds before we sleep. And the pain of every video or story of these inhumane slayings piles up. It piles up until we forget how to breathe.These statistics do not take into account the black trans women, queer, non-binary and non-gender conforming folks who are murdered at alarming rates, whose deaths are never publicly recognized or collectively mourned, whose names rarely penetrate the public consciousness. Even the “data” aren’t available for those who demand statistics: there are no existing accurate public resources that provide the numbers of how many queer and trans black people go missing or are murdered in both Canada and the USA.*The reality of being a black person in the Americas is to live with a consciousness of being a black subject in a world of white power. I am so hyper-aware of perceptions of my blackness that when I consider demanding better service at a restaurant, I know that to the outside world I am embodying the “angry black woman,” so instead I choose to keep my mouth shut. I am aware when I walk into stores that I am under surveillance, that my black skin summons it, and so I police my own actions before someone else does. I am aware that my skin is enough for me to face employment and housing discrimination, just as I am aware that my black skin can lead to economic racism, higher charges of interest rates and fees. I am aware that as a black woman in Toronto, I am three times more likely to be carded by police than anyone else. I am aware that my black skin not only criminalizes me, it dehumanizes my life.I am aware that because my black skin is enough to get me killed, people will spend more time deliberating why I deserved death than they will mourning my life.I am hyper-aware that my blackness is a social uniform that functions to alienate me. My blackness is the object of images, language and ideologies that are pre-determined and constructed because of my social uniform. In the words of Frantz Fanon, “I am over-determined from without.” It is the fact of blackness.*But, for as long as black people have existed here, we have known improvisation, transcendence, and resilience. We continuously mobilize and strategize to challenge the system that works against us in efforts of finding black liberation. For as long as we have existed here, we have formulated black liberation movements: The Black Liberation Army, The Black Arts Movement, The Black Panthers, The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, The Nation of Islam, and now Black Lives Matter. But we must be honest with ourselves about what black liberation has often looked like in the past and today: patriarchal, heteronormative, classist, cis-gendered, with a destructive focus on the humanization of black masculinity. We teach each other that black identity is singular, thus not inclusive. Our discussions of the dehumanization and invisibility of black life do not include the alarming realities of transphobia, homophobia, poverty, patriarchy, or mental health.A fight for black liberation will not succeed without love, support, compassion and, most importantly, understanding and (re)learning. Our black liberation movements will never fully succeed so long as we maintain heteronormative, cis-gendered, ableist, classist, and patriarchal agendas. The validity of black life is not just about black men. We must be actively aware of our own privileges as we continue to combat the ongoing oppression against black people everywhere.Black men must learn to actively understand how they contribute to a culture of patriarchy.Black cis-men and cis-women must learn to actively understand how we contribute to transphobia.Black heterosexually identified folks must learn to actively understand how we contribute to a culture of homophobia.We must stop allowing our collective definition of blackness to be understood as singular, because it is not. There are no binaries in blackness. There is a multiplicity. There is infinity. And we must honour that. Learning to breathe again means learning to breathe together.For as long as we continue to live under a state that actively chooses to disavow our humanity and believe that we do not matter, black death and black mourning will remain an agonizing reality. It will continue to chip away at our sanity, our livelihood, our families. This is how you slowly die here—if you are not killed first. With every new name that we learn of, every face that becomes painfully imprinted into our memories, we must remind ourselves that we matter—all while remembering how to breathe.Portions of this essay were originally delivered in the speech at York University that is mentioned in the piece.
‘Trump Has Allowed a Different Public Face to America’s Morality’: An Interview with Eden Collinsworth

Speaking with the author of Behaving Badly about the spread of misinformation and what drone strikes and clever robots have to teach us about the future of ethics.

Last month, I spent a week in Cuba, much of it based in Havana, the first time in a long time I’d travelled completely untethered from the Internet. Toward the end of our trip, outside the Museum of the Revolution, we struck up a conversation with a man from Atlanta, who wore an army-green field hat and a Che Guevara t-shirt and was clearly very excited about being in the city. He said he’d wanted to visit while visas were still available; he didn’t think Donald Trump would keep diplomatic relations open for long. I made a passing joke about all the possible things the president could’ve done since I last checked the news—five days seemed like plenty for a full-blown autocracy to settle in. “Well, Trump tore up the White House,” the man offered. “He said Obama bugged the White House and then he tore it up trying to find the bugs.”Okay, so: not quite. But there was precisely nothing about this scenario—not Trump thinking it, not Trump saying it, not Trump turning over chairs and ripping down golden curtains with his own tiny hands—that struck me as implausible. I’ve lost my capacity for astonishment. And I can’t begin to blame that on Trump alone: Though he may be a spectacular model of egregious behaviour, he’s hardly the only guy dispensing with decorum. Expecting a standard of conduct from politicians, businesspeople, celebrities, judges, athletes, academics, or rush-hour subway commuters now seems ludicrously quaint.It’s tempting to be sullen, or to throw up your hands, or to ask, as author Eden Collinsworth does, “where does one find solid moral ground on what is proving to be the porous bedrock of our 21st century?” but to mean that just as a rhetorical question, punctuated by more throwing up of hands. Give Collinsworth credit, then, for striving instead to find a meaningful response. In Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex, and Business, she canvasses a whistleblower, an army general, a Holocaust survivor, a prime minister, a video-game designer, a murderer, and Margaret Atwood—among others—to better understand how we can make moral choices in what she terms an ethically flexible age. Danielle Groen: When Barack Obama would address bigotry or nationalism or limitations on speech, he had a habit of saying, “That’s not who we are.” There’s an implication that citizens share a sense of morality. I thought we could begin with where that morality comes from.Eden Collinsworth: That’s exactly where I started. My sense is that morality is an inner voice, and it’s basically what tells you not to do something, even though it’s not illegal, or you won’t be caught. I grew up with a certain sense of morality instilled by my parents. I’m perhaps one of the last generations where that occurred. My son is now a young man. I’m confident he’s utterly decent, but that’s not so much the moral values I instilled in him as it is what’s shaped his life in his twenty-seven years. There have been these profound changes, in technology especially, which have given a younger demographic more of a 360-degree view of morality. We’ve never been so connected. Here you are in a different time zone. Here I am, in London, where it’s raining outside. I can walk down the street and call someone in China. That said, we are still grappling with this instinct to retreat into what we know. In all of my travels writing this book, it seemed increasingly clear to me that we operate in cultural, socio-economic, and sexual silos. No matter how sophisticated we think we are, we fall back on that as a control panel.But that panel isn’t necessarily fixed—fifty years ago, homosexuality was a criminal act in Canada; last year, our prime minister marched in pride parades across the country. Are moral shifts inevitable?I think the most dramatic change in my lifetime has been the moral attitude toward sexuality. There’s definitely been a paradigm shift. I don’t think that’ll retreat. I believe it started in the courts but very quickly wove into the cultural fabric. There’s no doubt in my mind that—at the risk of sounding condescending as heterosexual—it’s been normalized. What I grapple with as a woman is why there hasn’t been an equivalent momentum with women’s rights. That’s so beyond me. I can’t quite figure that out.Well, a man who bragged on tape about committing sexual assault now sits in the Oval Office. What happens when there don’t appear to be consequences for behaving badly?I’ve been based in New York a great deal of my life. Virtually everyone from New York is from some other place. That’s the deal. I’ve heard obscenities and vulgarities, but I’ve never heard a racial attack. Recently, I got on the subway for an appointment uptown. I was seated, because I got on downtown; all I saw were legs and disembodied voices. Somebody inadvertently shoved somebody else, who confronted the person. The exchange turned racial almost immediately. What the man said was, “Go back to Africa.” I’d never heard that before. Maybe he’s always felt that, but now he’s allowed to express it—it’s been normalized because of the atmosphere propagated by Trump. It weaves into the fabric. It becomes acceptable. That said, with the tape, I think something mattered more than that. The fact is that people have lost jobs. Those jobs will not come back. I don’t care how many walls you build or what you promise. But if somebody promises you employment and a salary cheque, who cares what he says on a bus?But those jobs won’t come back. And we’ve seen a bunch of major developments in the past year that hinged on misinformation. The Brexit campaign lied about how much money the UK gives the EU. Trump lied about pretty much everything, whether it’s crime rates or immigration vetting or not cutting Medicaid. Does morality rely on a shared set of facts?That’s a fascinating question that speaks to a deeper question that is almost rhetorical: What do you want to believe? If you want to believe something, you’re determined to believe something, then there is a different method of receiving and generating news that can feed that now. I think the only thing that will change that attitude, frankly, are results. He’ll either get the results or he won’t.How much do you imagine you’ll have to talk about Trump while promoting this book? And did his victory challenge any of the ideas you had about moral behaviour?Truth be told, the book was scheduled for June and moved forward. The publishers asked me, “Would you please revisit the sections where you’ve written about politics and Trump in particular?” The situation has absolutely allowed a different public face to America’s morality. For whatever reason, he was a change agent. I think technology—24-hour news stations and social media—had a great deal to do with it. It enabled it. The fact is that, until Trump appeared on the scene, there was always pushback. Whether it was the church saying, “You shouldn’t say those things. You shouldn’t even think them, but you most certainly shouldn’t say them.” Or academics saying, “That’s incorrect. That’s not right.” Whether it was society in general or your parents—it doesn’t matter anymore. Those things were said and as a result it’s now acceptable to say them publicly. And social media invites participation where everyone feels, right or wrong, that they have a say.But in collapsing that distance between the powerful and not-so-powerful, social media creates an opportunity for people to call out questionable or unethical actions. It also informs the way we communicate and our ability to be empathetic. Even when you and I are speaking, I’m sensitive to and aware of the tone of your voice. Sometimes there’s hesitation, sometimes there’s enthusiasm. I don’t think we’re born empathetic; the only way that comes to be is by interacting with people in real time, usually in front of you. Those abilities and aptitudes are like a muscle. The more abstracted you become, the more you fall back on your own prejudices. It all moves forward so quickly. You become angrier more quickly. There’s no subtlety or way of measuring a reaction.Any discussion of whether advances in technology encourage us to behave in ways we otherwise wouldn’t makes me think immediately of Anthony Weiner, a man who seems constitutionally incapable of not sending women pictures of his penis. Without the technological tools, though, wouldn’t his need for approval, or his propensity for risky behaviour—pick your explanation—just find another outlet?I suspect he would have found a different outlet and it probably wouldn’t have had the same audience. He would’ve done something. He sounds frankly pathological. On a slightly less dramatic or repulsive level, I do think one behaves differently given the technological resources. Men tweet things to women they wouldn’t necessarily say to their face. People accuse people of things they wouldn’t necessarily say in person. I think there’s no doubt about it.You mentioned problems of abstraction. What about in combat? If we take humans further and further from the battlefield and let drones do the killing for us, do we create a moral distance from our actions? That’s the question that many people have. Are you making killing too easy? I spoke with Eric Zimmerman, who is a game designer. He talked about the magic circle. It’s where the game takes place, and you understand that the way you operate within this magic circle is not the way you operate in real life. What happens when warfare becomes the magic circle? From what I understand, the young people who are operating the drone equipment on the launch end come with a history of using these video games. They literally have the eye and agility for it. It does abstract you. But from the research I did, I promise you the people who are launching these drones don’t get a free lunch. In other words, they have problems and guilt. It’s not as if they walk away feeling like it’s easy.Or like it doesn’t carry consequences.I think they’re very much aware if they’ve killed people.I’ve suddenly been hearing people cite climate change, resource scarcity, or overpopulation as reasons they’re hesitating to have a child. Is there a moral responsibility to think about where the world is heading before having a baby?I don’t know. I’ve reproduced once and that was enough. It’s very expensive and exhausting. I don’t regret it for a moment. I think that if there’s a moral obligation, it’s to stick around and try your best to sort it out. It comes down to decency and indecency. I’ve traveled all over the world and lived everywhere under very different circumstances. I don’t need an interpreter or a priest to recognize what kindness is.Can that kindness be programmed into robots? Can morality be standardized? One has to put it in perspective. While we’re arguing the pros and cons, technology is moving forward. It’s the same with making babies. We can put a moratorium on altering genes, but guess what? In China, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. We might be thinking one way about robots, but in another country they’ll be programming robots in a different way. That said, it’s going to be quite a while before robots get to the point where they’re operating in ways that aren’t programmed by human beings.But some of the technology that’s being discussed, whether it’s five or fifty years from fruition, is bananas. It stretches belief and comprehension. Is there a danger that the conversations around the ethics of that technology will be limited to the people who happen to get it?I agree with you entirely in terms of that concern. The people who are inventing the future of technology, and as a result have so much impact on our lives, are very removed from the people who will take full advantage of the technology. All this technology is coming from publicly traded businesses. The first obligation of the CEO of a company, especially if it’s publicly traded and owned, is to its shareholders to increase value of the stock. It’s not altruism.That’s scary. I find myself scared a lot.Me too!I’m scared about what strikes me as a moral failure in response to the refugee crisis. I’m scared about robots stealing my job. I’m scared that it doesn’t matter if robots steal my job, because we’ll soon have made the earth too hot for anyone to live. How do I get through that fear?You keep thinking, this can’t get any worse, and then actually it does, or it gets worse in a different way. What I can say is that if you look for something where you feel as though you’re making a difference, that changes things. For me, it was to join the board of Relief International. You take a step back. I don’t know about the rest. I know one has to believe in the best, otherwise you just crawl under a rock. Come out from under the rock. It’s very bad for your complexion.
Free the Roses

On the bloom of spectacular decline.

“I mean, there’s no work involvedin being a rose, it seems.As soon as God looks out the window,he creates the house.”— Rainer Maria Rilke, Les Roses“Can we complete ourselves like roses do?”—Rainer Maria Rilke, Les RosesA guide to making roses bloom on a specific date, for a special occasion, is divided into four elements: timing, technique, hedging your bets, and considerations. Addressed to home gardeners in San Francisco, the guide minus context is one of the two most applicable advice columns I’ve read this year, the other being an op-ed in the Washington Post encouraging Chelsea Clinton, for the sake of her “political future,” to “disappear.” For me a garden seems unlikelier to have than a political future. Still, I am interested in how roses live. I find out, for instance, that the first auroral blooms in the International Test Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon arrived by the end of March, as they did last year and the year before and as they did not in the years before that, when the seasons had order. Gardeners talking to newspapers are sometimes concerned, knowing that a backlash to the early warmth, a frost in mid-April, can blight a rose before it fully lives. By summer the bloom cycles are easier to control, and begin when the gardener “deadheads” the roses, inducing new life; when it is warmer the blooming season is longer, which sounds ideal. Not so, explains an Australian rose grower, saying that a shorter hibernation means “the roses are being put under more stress.”This delicate internal clock is one thing that makes the rose a dread metaphor for romantic love, and for years, in fact for the first decade of my sexual life, I refused to accept a single stem from a single new lover. Timing was at the heart of my superstition, which I expressed as a resistance to clichés. Yet the week I got engaged to a man I had known for a month, I paid a studio visit to the artist Scott Campbell, whose main medium is tattooing, and who demonstrated a homemade, prison-style tattoo gun by inking, on my ankle, a classic long-stemmed rose from his repertoire. Things that were sudden also felt right to me at the time, and forgetting that I had not planned to get a tattoo, or that I would not have a picked a rose for myself, I stipulated only that Campbell draw it with thorns (no trope is more personally irritating than that of a woman who, in love, becomes defenseless). Four years later, the petals retain the impression of a velvety rubescence, despite being inked in plain black.I feel like, what’s the point of a rose? Does the rose need a point?* * *Maybe my tattoo has fostered a frequency illusion, but I swear that the traditional flowerage, in traditional red, is a trend gone strong. Over a dozen or so seasons, the rose has cropped up as a motif or ingredient in runway and off-runway fashion, organic and “natural” beauty products, fragrances for people under the age of 34, and certain romanticizing strains of reluctantly contemporary art. A beloved museum show of 2016, held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, was Alex Da Corte’s “Free Roses,” named for a dream of buying all the roses from a roadside flower-seller and giving them away. One of my favourite people is a painter, Sam McKinniss, who mixes carmine and white over silver to make livid roses reminiscent of Fantin-Latour, and if I could have any new sculpture, it would be the one by Jesse Darling involving an artificial bloom at the neck of a plastic one-litre bottle, an IV bag filled with anti-freeze, hooked on a bungee cord, and a homemade, ersatz gun, all wired together to look like a dish from an anarchofeminist cookbook. On social media, whether the feed is primarily aesthetic (Instagram), socialist and literary (Twitter), or aesthetic and literary (Tumblr), I see bright or dark red roses “everywhere,” where they used to be shunned: they are your grandmother’s and your mother’s roses, now embroidered on satin bombers or black leather winklepickers or handbags, enamel-pinned on totes and blue denim jackets, printed on slipdresses, plucked from the nearby bodega and posed in a “selfie” or still life (to me a still life of one’s posessions is also a kind of “selfie,” my least favourite word) that is taken on a rose-gold iPhone 6, the lens smeared a little with face oil for an ad hoc soft-focus glow, a picture that seems to say, “Funny. Red roses for me.”Those are the words said to have been thought by Jacqueline Kennedy on the Love Field in Dallas, Texas around noon on November 22, 1963, when she and John F. landed and she was handed a bouquet. The state’s official flower is a yellow rose, so yellow are the roses given to visiting dignitaries, but on the second day of the President’s visit there was a city-wide shortage. Red was the next-best colour. A field called love. A wool bouclé suit in Mattel Barbie pink, originally designed by Chanel but reproduced by a Seventh Avenue tailor, a Polish Jew who immigrated to New York City in 1952, so that the First Lady could say it was “made in America.” The script by Noah Oppenheim for the Pablo Larraín film Jackie contains, in place of her thought, “a beat, as she eyes the crimson blossoms,” before she is dazed into smiling by the noise of the crowd. (Henry Green, in his 1946 novel Back, shows a soldier coming home with one leg, having lost the other “for not seeing the gun beneath a rose,” a worst-case definition of sub rosa that the dead Jackie might have appreciated. Darling’s afore-described sculpture, Gun I (2014, remixed 2016), puts it similarly.) Hours later she will begin to be grateful for the crowds, the photographed evidence for her refusal to see “Jack” as a casualty, which he is in a strict sense. Nothing’s heroic about dying in a convertible. Yet the rain had gone, the sky was clean and bright, the weather in essence was prepped for a celebration to which the witnesses had invited themselves, and so as a symbol or catalyst for the loss of “our freedoms,” few events are so endless as Kennedy’s death. Red on a sunny day remains unreal.[[{"fid":"6700106","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"800","width":"1200","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]JackieJackie, as played by Natalie Portman, appears like we’ve never quite seen her, a figment inferred from two startling, frangible images on historical record: the wife holding a man’s head together in a seat “full of blood and red roses,” as she’d later recall; and the widow coming home still stubbornly dressed in red-splattered pink, as if declaring her consanguinity with the man who hadn’t lately shared her bed. “Let them see what they’ve done,” said Jackie in life as in the film, though she did not know who “they” were. Everything she wanted was borrowed, even her flair for a tragedy. She was sure in her misapprehensions. She may not have remembered that it was Mamie Elizabeth Till who declared, eight years and three months earlier, that the funeral of her teenage son would be open-casket and open to press, saying, “Let the people see what I’ve seen.” Today at the Whitney Museum there is a painting by Dana Schutz of Emmett Till in repose, ripping the sight from its time and making it more awful and fresh than any black-and-white photograph. I found it impossible to look closely at the face of the boy as seen by Schutz, and kept refocusing on a big vermillion rose she affixed to the casket, a rose, not found in the photographs, that begs the interpretation: here is a Catholic ex voto, as ornate and fetishistic and tacky as anything Catholic, for a martyr who deserves to be made canonical, to be hung in museums. Considering the trendiness of roses, I felt the gesture gave credence to another reading: here is a white artist who has noticed black death for the first time as a trend in the news. I wondered, irrelevantly, how the early Christians would have reacted had the daughter of a Roman centurion learned to make woodcuts, and done the cover of Foxe’s.By coincidence or not, the year Jackie dodged a bullet and tried to make John F. a martyr was also the year Jessica Mitford, the English aristocrat turned socialist and journalist stateside, published what remains our best dissection of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death. Mitford describes a vast coalition of florists whose profits depend heavily on people dying for others to grieve, and whose spokespeople refer to funeral announcements that say please omit flowers or in lieu of flowers, please donate to charity as being “derogatory to flowers.” She finds the President of the Society of American Florists expressing the gravest fear, that “funeral directors, as well as florists, are in danger of being swept away along with sentiment and tradition.” A little swept away himself, he wasn’t remiss: sentiment at large could be seen as embattled by common sense and matters of survival, as when Lynn Anderson sang, “I beg your pardon / I never promised you a rose garden,” and also by something strange to common sense, which we call the contemporary. A 1966 profile of Cy Twombly in Vogue, showing the artist at his Roman palazzo, noted that in “certain quarters, where it is assumed that avant-garde American artists should live in avant-garde American discomfort,” he was “suspected of having fallen for ‘grandeur,’ and somehow betrayed the cause.” Two years earlier, Twombly had shown “Nine Discourses on Commodus,” an immediate response to Kennedy’s death in which gored and dripping roses, paired up like entrance and exit wounds, figure huge; and had been dismissed as a messy, reactionary, basically irredeemable classicist by those in favour of material austerity. His detractors, like the artist-critic Donald Judd, believed they saw the future in the spirit of minimalism, but Twombly saw through the future to the spectacular decline, and turned out to be right.[[{"fid":"6700116","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":""},"type":"media","attributes":{"height":"688","width":"1350","class":"media-element file-media-original"}}]]Cy TwomblyIn the fall of 1986, the President, who was Ronald Reagan, proclaimed the rose to be the “national floral emblem” of the United States of America. After that the bloom came pretty quickly off the symbol. “I hate roses,” Twombly told Vogue in a second profile, this one at a Gaetan villa, in 1994. “Don’t you? It’s all right if you can hide them in a cutting garden, but I think a rose garden is the height of ick.” Vogue must have concurred, because by the time of my white suburban prom in Southern Ontario, a chronotope not rife with sophistication, everyone knew a corsage or spray of roses was embarrassingly formal, too dressy, overdetermined. A chill girl wanted a silver heart necklace from Tiffany, and later in the 2000s, living under the shared aesthetic of Marc Jacobs and Sofia Coppola, she wanted hand picked bunches of daisies and a white iPod loaded with post-punk. Long-stemmed red roses were about as welcome a gift as an Andrea Bocelli CD, and were used to signal melodramatic irony (see: American Beauty, a movie that can only be rated relative to nighttime soap operas) and to make, depending on the audience, a fun game or borderline mockery (or both) of heteromantic ideation (see: the central schtick of The Bachelor).“We both know it’s not fashionable to love me,” sings Lana Del Rey, proudly, on her 2015 album Honeymoon. Were Lana’s brand of Americana to have its own flag, it would be a print on satin, not silk, of the opening shot in Blue Velvet. A film by David Lynch, released the year Reagan issued the proclamation about the rose. A white picket fence against the sky with the red double blooms, a visual on the phrase “newly patriotic.” Newly hip, too. Lana and I both know it’s trendier now to be a bit unfashionable. What she calls “my mother’s suburban glamour” and I call the “lil’ bourgeois aesthetic” entails a somewhat wishful, somewhat wry interest in signifying the deluxe, in looking like the return of the middle class to cul-de-sacs on golf courses, to white-cloth restaurants and daytime gin in midtown. Roses by other names include: rhinestone clip-on earrings, long nude nails, marabou mules, blouses buttoned all the way up or black lace bodysuits. Wristwatches with gold faces and leather bands to match slim gold-tipped cigarettes. Eyeshadow to match light blue jeans, high-waisted and cropped to make ankles sexy. I personally know five women under the age of 34 who own wool bouclé skirt-suits, and none of them live in the White House. These are women who have never been called “young ladies,” who have uneasy permalance relationships with corporate employers, who have breakfast at Duane Reade instead of Tiffany’s, and who, if they get married, do not then expect to be happier.These are not all white women, I should say, but I should also say that my ideas of “suburban” and “middle class” were formed in whiteness and by trying to fit in. Ditto my sense of what’s fancy. To my friend Durga, whose family moved to Canada from India before she was born, roses smell neither rich nor sweet but neutral. To my friend Tara, who moved with her mother to Canada from Iran in her teens, rosewater is an ingredient slightly less common than sugar. I recently got entranced with a video in which Princess Nokia, a Nuyorican recording artist in the Bronx, makes her own rosewater facial mist with fresh petals, agua de Florida, and water to steam, poured into a dollar-store spray bottle. (“Most flowers have a gender identity,” she explains, unscientifically. “Roses are like the most female.”) Her tender, easy process gave me the meaning of “self-care,” a concept that hadn’t previously appealed to me, as it sounded like phoning and ordering flowers to your own bedside; when I saw it in practice, not exactly as preached by Audre Lorde, it looked akin to the kinds of (in)activity our mothers called “relaxing” and “mindless,” the face masks in front of the television and the forty-minute bubble baths. Self-care seems better when it means something like “tending your own garden.”* * *There has been, for like a hundred years, a heady socialist overtone to the subgenus Rosa. “Bread and roses,” the titular line in a 1911 ode by James Oppenheim to the American women’s movement, became a famous demand at worker’s strikes and a trade union’s motto (histories differ as to whether the union organizer Rose Schneiderman, who demanded bread and roses in a speech the same year, inspired or was inspired by Oppenheim). In the winter of 1912, women led a massive two-month textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, chanting, “Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.” Those who are needy are also, and equally, desirous. This is a message so basic it should never have gone out of style.The thinker and writer Jacqueline Rose, in her recent book Women in Dark Times and elsewhere, argues that the Polish, Jewish, and Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was a moral and sensual force and a changeable spirit who thought “passion—like politics—was a question of freedom.” Nicknamed “Red Rosa” as she climbed to prominence in Germany’s Social Democratic Party and “Bloody Rosa” after she broke ranks and was imprisoned for radical actions, she was described by comrades as “tiny, fragile” and “selfless” and by the prosecutors who imprisoned her as “rootless.” The image stemming from these descriptions is of a gift rose in crimson, her leaves and thorns lightly intact, living her shortened life in a vase on a pedestal. Obviously this is more romantic than accurate: Luxemburg, who has also been described as one of the twentieth century’s best thinkers, believed in spontaneity and permanent change and identified mostly with birds. Her view on the Russian Revolution was romantic and accurate at once, as like a Brontë heroine rushing to love, she could see it was doomed but believed in it anyway (or meted her belief according to the measure of its doom, depending on your reading of her mind). Rose sees the conflict between Lenin and Luxemburg in psychoanalytic terms, saying that while Lenin fixated on the size of a problem, Luxemburg laid fingers on the deeper cause, or the inner meaning, and so was “offering a counter-erotics of revolution.” Assuming she cared for her namesake flower, this revolutionary, this determined internationalist, would have been disturbed to find the rose a symbol of state and national pride, or of a woman’s welcome possession by a lover.Luxemburg wrote in a 1911 article, “Peace Utopias,” that the war-and-peace dialectic in capitalism, responsible for an expensive international arms race that was supposed to end and be ended with “world peace,” was proof that “the roses of capitalist profit-making and class domination also have thorns for the bourgeoisie, which it prefers to wear as long as possible round its suffering head, in spite of all pain and woe, rather than get rid of it along with the head on the advice of the Social Democrats.” (Eventually it would be the Social Democrats who, two months after the end of World War One, had Luxemburg executed for her Communism. Remember the Queen of Hearts? “For painting my roses red / Someone will lose his head.”) From prison, where she spent time with prostitutes, Luxemburg wrote a sweeping piece of literary criticism in which she cast the crown of roses a little differently, fashioning an answer to Tennyson’s old “rose of womanhood” in a passage on prostitution in Russian literature. Unlike his English and French counterparts, says Luxemburg,“the Russian artist … dignifies the prostitute and rehabilitates her for the crime that society has committed on her by letting her compete with the purest and loveliest types of womanhood for the heart of the man. He crowns her head with roses and elevates her, as does Mahado his Bajadere [in Goethe’s poem ‘Der Gott und die Bajadere’] from the purgatory of corruption and her own agony to the heights of moral purity and womanly heroism.”It’s funny how many contradictions elicited by the rose, bred by its infamous symmetry, can be addressed by saying that the rose both has and is currency. Used as legal tender by seventeenth-century royals in Western Europe, today roses are used by sex workers online to euphemize pay, as in “300 roses per hour.” Roses in emoji form are also used, on Twitter, to signal membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a left-wing populist organization whose ranks have nearly tripled in the last six months, and whose agenda is more or less set against global capital. Because some of the Democratic Socialists are also members of a partly fictitious, partly metafictitious group known as “Bernie Bros,” there are liberals who think the rose emoji is to the left or the sometimes-called “alt left” what the frog emoji is to the Breitbartians (a longer word for barbarians) of the “alt right.” The idea here, if there is one, is that the rose is a cover for the stench of rank masculinity, but to think that any one group, even if it were male-dominated, could usurp a symbol so classic and storied is ridiculous. Before, during, and after Pepe, a green frog signifies little beyond the princely delusions of laughable men. A frog does not speak to human dignity. A rose still does. When a friend texts me a rose, she is saying not to worry about my worth.As for what it says about my political or more personal nature that I prefer the newer rose emoji, thorny and dissolute and darker, visibly dying, I don’t feel like explaining it. Frankenstein said it best in The Bride of Frankenstein, iterating to his creator that yes, he understands his fate, knows which side he’s seen to be on: “I love dead,” he says. “Hate living.” I love cemeteries for being and for remaining the only solid grounds, whereas everything else solid, as you may have heard, melts into air. I love the way Twombly painted dead heads of empire in the Sixties, and the way Nobuyushi Araki, the Japanese photographer, answered an interviewer who asked how he made old-fashioned flowers look hot: “Why do they come across as erotic? Because I shot them.” I love when Lana wishes she were already dead. I know what Jacqueline Rose means when she says “capitalism cannot hide its ugliness from the world (periodically revealing that ugliness is simply the obverse of its inhuman powers of endurance).” Ugliness may be human, and more original than beauty; beauty lapses easily into cliché, but then suggests that clichés, the good ones at least, begin as efforts to describe the irreducible. I would love to buy roses to watch them die. I don’t buy them. I would never be able to throw them out.
‘You Write Your Way Into a Certain Kind of Clarity’: An Interview with Paul Auster

Talking with the author of 4 3 2 1 about unfair criticism, being haunted by what-ifs, and the stuffy conventions of modern American fiction.

4 3 2 1 feels a bit like Paul Auster going to 11. His latest novel is something of a maximalist interpretation of his lifelong fascination with happenstance, metafictional gamesmanship and American mythology. It follows the life of one boy, Archibald Ferguson, in four different configurations: spurred by the fate of his father’s furniture and appliance shop, each version of Ferguson is left to spiral out into an entirely different life, finding his own path from New Jersey youth to—well, it depends on the Ferguson, really.Though it has lost the genre play of Auster’s early work, it has replaced it with something like sociopolitical grandiosity. 4 3 2 1 is, in a sense, [sort of] the ultimate American tale: beginning with an immigrant who bumbles his way through the processing centre of Ellis Island, it is a kind of oblique testament to the potential of the American endeavour. You really can be almost anything in this land, or at the very least be a lot of different variations on the same basic story.With the drumbeats of history and politics marching each of the four Fergusons along, Auster takes us through almost every aspect of a Jewish New Jersey adolescence, every possibility, joy, horror, heartbreak, erection, ecstatic triumph and cruel disappointment of a young man growing through midcentury American tumult. It is a hearty scratch for anyone who has ever felt the itch of what if, a deep dive into the rocky, capricious, chaotic waters of life—and then it comes up for air and dives back down three more times.*David Berry: One of the Fergusons becomes a writer—well, I guess they all become writers in some capacity, but one becomes a novelist—and he describes the experience of his first review as, “five satisfying tongue kisses, a friendly pat on the back, three punches to the face, one knee to the balls, one execution by firing squad, two shrugs.” You seem to get your share of criticism these days; how has it been to wade back into the responses to your first book in six years?Paul Auster: First novel. I wrote three books in between. I don’t know why everyone says that: it’s not as though I was twiddling my thumbs the whole time. But I don’t read too much of it. I’ve gotten some very nice responses. Some very awful responses. That’s pretty typical for me. It’s nothing in between: it’s either love or hate. What can I do? I’m a target. People are gunning for me. I find it ridiculously stupid, unfair— they don’t read my work, but they have an opinion about it. Other people are more open-minded: they see what’s there, and they respond to it. There seem to be some reviewers who want to say what the book should be, rather than what it is. It’s as if someone was to say, “Well, Ulysses, it’s so boring. Why isn’t Leopold Bloom planning a bank heist for that day? That would be much more exciting.”To think that this one could have had four bank heists. But I’m curious, then, about what is there: what drew you to this conception of a novel of multiple timelines, or parallel lives, or whatever you might want to call it?Number one would be this eternal fascination with “what if?” I’m always playing out possibilities of what might or might not have happened. But I think, deeper than that, was a thing that happened to me, which I have written about: when I was 14, a boy was struck by lightning next to me, and killed. That has haunted me all my life. And it has certainly changed who I am. That experience—but I wasn’t even aware of it when I started. So much is happening in the subconscious. You write your way into a certain kind of clarity. It starts as a blurry muddle of mess, and then it starts to take on definition.The experience of writing a book might be like that, but what about that actual experience, of almost being hit by lightning? You’ve talked about it before as an important event in your life, and I feel like you could trace that through a lot of your fiction, the idea of this sort of happenstance, random occurrence. Did you have anything like that realization at the time? I mean, it’s literally a bolt out of the sky, showing you how random things can be.No no no no no. It’s something that sneaks up on you over the years. I distinctly remember, after it happened, it never occurred to me to think, “If it had been five seconds later, it would have been me.” That never crossed my mind until years later. Because somehow, an event is an event. You take it for what it is. It’s only on reflection. This book in its entirety is almost all that reflection. Remember the conversation that Ferguson 4 has with Noah, his friend/cousin, about the two roads: You have to get to an appointment, and there’s the main road and the back road. You can’t really know if you’ve made the right decision, because you can’t be in two places at the same time. And he says that’s why we invented God, because he can be all places at the same time. These are the kinds of things that have always interested me, so I decided to play it out in a big book.I think those what-ifs are always appealing to a certain kind of person. Although I think, in a strange way, thinking about those actually makes me feel more like a determinist. Thinking about all the things that could have been different, that were maybe just happenstance, makes me think about the ways they were actually kind of causal. I think of it almost in the Guns, Germs, and Steel sense, the way all these little things shape outcomes: if you go far enough back, I find it easy to think, “Well, what else could this really be.”I’m not so sure about this. In my previous novel, Sunset Park, Lorenzo Michaels, the novelist, is having a conversation with his friend, and talks about wanting to write a novel about things that didn’t happen. There are many wars that could have happened, but didn’t happen. A lot of huge wars that stupidly could have been avoided—the Cuban Missile Crisis being one that didn’t happen, Iraq being one that did, for no reason. It was built on lies that the Bush administration told the American public, and has destroyed a whole country, a whole region, and we’re still paying the price for that blunder. But it didn’t have to happen. Another what-if: what if Ralph Nader hadn’t run for president? Or what if the Supreme Court hadn’t been the political hacks they were and given the election to Bush? What if Gore had been president? He never would have invaded Iraq. So likely there’d be no ISIS today. No so many things. It just so easily could have come to pass that way. I can’t believe in this determinism. It doesn’t make sense. It’s just how things fall out. They don’t have to be that way.Right, but I think that sense of spiralling out you’re talking about, that’s what sort of trips me up. To keep on the 2000 election: sure, if those judges had decided a different way, we don’t get ISIS. But maybe you wouldn’t have been on the court, in a position to make that decision, if you weren’t the kind of person who would have decided that way. You wouldn’t be Ralph Nader if you weren’t the type of person to run a more or less hopeless presidential campaign. The tendrils seem so vast in every direction I almost feel like you have to assume it worked out that way for some particular reason—not in the sense of, like, God ordained it, but maybe just something like, “Well, it started in this position.”I think what I want to say about the lightning experience is this: anything can happen at any moment. Period. At any given moment things don’t have to happen the way they do. It’s an accident. An accident by definition is something that doesn’t have to happen. It’s not necessary. It’s a contingent fact. The only necessary things that have to happen, I suppose, is that we’re born and we die. Everything else is a contingent fact.Speaking of contingent facts: since this is a novel, and you’re not literally God, there are a fair amount of concordances between the Fergusons. They’re all writers, of a kind, they all end up dating or interested in the same woman, and so on. Is there something essential about a character, in your mind, when you set down to create one? As soon as you started this character with parallel lives, are there just certain ways he had to develop?Had to develop?Okay, fair. Was more likely to develop?I thought so. They all share certain things. An ability at sports, a love of music, they all share an interest in literature, film, art of all kinds. They’re all erotic beings, they care about that part of their lives—as most of us do. Nearly everyone I’ve known does. Some people more than others, I suppose. All given to a kind of inwardness. Those are what I would call the genetic traits—the nature-nurture debate, which is what you’re trying to goad me into talking about. On the other hand, having lived with these boys for so long, I tend to think about the differences.Well, speaking of those, is there any degree of wish fulfillment in a novel like this? Like Ferguson 4 says, that god-like ability to be everywhere at once, even well beyond the normal abilities of a novelist to be wherever it is he wants to be?That had never occurred to me. I guess you could say it’s the wish fulfillment of a writer who can tell it different ways. We’re always telling things one way, even when we’re making them up. I kept finding them, to be honest: the book is largely improvised. It just kept occurring to me as I was doing it, the feeling that I was finding material just hovering above the page on my desk. I’d plan certain things out, but they just never seemed to go that way on the page. I had many more characters and stories I wanted to deal with, and it always became much more streamlined than I thought it would be.The things that happen in any given moment. That does make me wonder: you start the book with a joke, though it’s something like the foundational joke of the family. Without giving it away, is this sort of the ultimate response to the capriciousness of life—you just have to laugh about it?Is that a joke? At times it feels like a joke. I don’t know why I began the book with that joke. I hadn’t heard it until about two years before I started writing the book. But I knew the tone, right from the beginning, which is why I started with the joke. I wanted it to have the feel of legend. According to family legend, he arrives in New York January 1, 1900, and supposedly walks on the street and buys a tomato, thinking it’s an apple. Since when do they sell tomatoes on the street in New York in January? It’s all a blur of conjecture, legend and myth. You have to understand the humour in all this, too. There’s a jocular sense of storytelling. Even the references of the gods, from time to time. It only seems like a realist novel. I think it seeks to break all the rules of how Americans write fiction. I’ve always been writing against them. I’ve never tried to join that club. I’m not in it. I don’t want to be. I don’t want to write the way people wrote 100 years ago. It’s getting tired.
Kids Like Us

Fifteen years after its release, Bend It Like Beckham is still an essential representation of South Asian teenagehood. 

Inside a tight taupe leathered car, something out of a ‘70s Amitabh Bachchan movie, Jesminder (Parminder Nagra), the protagonist of Bend It Like Beckham (directed by pop genius Gurinder Chadha), sits with her sister, Pinky (Archie Punjabi), on the latter’s wedding day. They’re framed by the flurry of people behind them. Pinky asks Jess, her whimsical golden churis delicately singing as she moves her hand to push a non-existent strand of hair away from her face, “Don't you want all of this? This is the best day of your life, innit?” Her expression is uncharacteristically twee, a star of bindis lining her acute bone structure, she smiles, broadly, as if to expect a loud yes. Instead, Jess looks at her, eyebrows narrow, pointed, and says, calmly, without hesitation or the bratty intonation Pinky usually has on lockdown, “I want more than this.”The this is subtle, and sibilant, exaggerated like a low hum. She’s wearing a silk sari the color of dark pink roses, and it fits her beautifully—but little about the Indian wedding satiates Jess. The glamour of it doesn’t entice her, the festivities are pallid and uninspiring, leaving her disoriented and unhappy. Her dark hair is in a loose tussle, the way hair falls when it’s been primed into a neat, hair-sprayed construction. She wants more than the limits of her culture. Frozen in melancholy, she wants more than this. Pinky falls into the category of a South Asian kid who wants what’s expected of her. She, herself, needs (and eventually has) a handsome Punjabi, Sikh husband. She wants chubby children. She craves a relatively simple life, following the trodden lead of her parents, and the community of other brown girls like her—whom she hates, but all brown aunties eventually hate other brown aunties, so it’s fine, she’s fine. She desires the script that many South Asian kids want, that of a life isomorphic to their parents', where husbands are Indian and handsome and modern, and women can cook parathas and aloo gobi, wearing bright colored kurtas with mismatched cardigans and socks. Tried and tested equates to stability, and it’s always easier on the road more travelled. The success rate seems higher, a good return on investment.But, what of all the rest? What of all the children who don’t fit neatly into a prescribed expectation? Children who, even when they try, clearly weren’t built for an ordinary life? Children who can’t fall into mimicry with small grace and little disappointment? Children like Jess?*The beauty of Jess, and perhaps one of the most relatable parts of her, is that she tries. She tries so exceptionally hard to be the good daughter that her parents have mightily intended her to be. She’s a bright kid, she respects them, listens to them, and yet despite all that, she wants more than this. She laments to Tony (Ameet Chana), her closeted Indian best friend, “Anything I want is just not Indian enough for 'em!”For Jess, it’s too much to say no to the way the grass feels against her feet when she zigzags across the football field, a heap of air snaking through her T-shirt as she runs past a teammate, or the way the tight plastic ball feels at the curve of her knees when she’s moving sinuously in a game, scoring a goal. Or, when she buys her first pair of legitimate football shoes with her friend Jules, a pair of black and whites, and how they sit and laugh about it in a pub in London, giddy and innocent, unwrapping the foils of paper and plastic to unleash this small pleasure. Jess doesn’t want to lie, but she’s being confronted with herself. That itch that won’t go away. Slowly, as so many kids like us do, Jesminder begins the dire charade of lying to her family. Football, she reconciles, is not such a bad thing. It’s the frustration of just wanting to live that becomes such a burden. She shouldn’t have to lie, but alas—she takes the leap, making the decision that every brown kid is confronted with, crossing the line that feels so shameful.The litmus test of a good child need not be “Do you lie to your parents?” Because the answer will always be a sweaty “Yes.”*Jess represents an area of conversation still largely overlooked in South Asian communities: the child who meekly defies cultural expectation. She’s not intensely radical, she just wants to play sports, but her small act of subversion paves a road for something more. It’s why those words—I want more than this—resonated so deeply when I first watched the film in 2002. I was twelve, and I didn’t have access to myself in an honest way, mirroring myself against half fashioned heroes that looked nothing like me. I thought I needed to be anybody but myself to be validated, to be worthy of my place in this world, this brown valueless body of mine. But Jess’s slow self-actualization made me question how following another’s dream would service me. In the end, I would have to live with my decisions. So why usurp my sanity for somebody else’s dopey, unfulfilled wishes for my life?One of the reasons we still struggle with these realities in our communities is because our language for who we are as South Asians in the West is still so young, still so undefined. We have so much internalized hatred amongst us; the running joke in Bend It Like Beckham is that Jess can marry anyone, just not a Muslim. We’ve refused to detail our shameful and horrific interlacing pasts. That the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has been accused of participating in a cleansing of Gujrati Muslims in 2002. Or that my very own Bengali parents survived a Civil War, where three million majority Muslim Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani Army in 1971. Or that Pakistani Muslims killed Sikhs in Punjab in the ‘40s, and vice versa. Or that Kashmir is still a tentative region over a debate of religion and ownership. We don’t give voice to the hatred we have for each other, and therefore we are unable to unpack the absurdity of it, when in so many ways our histories are richer, intensified, and made more glorious because of what we’ve shared through the ages.So, we don’t have the decades of tastemakers defining and redefining what it means to be South Asian—especially what it means to be South Asian in the West. Our trauma is so intangible, so incalculable, that we’ve refused to explore it, and now we’re full of rage, feeling stuck in the strongholds of the minority model myth.But, when a film like Bend It Like Beckham comes out, it means that for a split second we get to see what it means to be us, not an appropriative version of us; us in full definition, spilling with flaws and curiosity, with the quintessential quirks: the way the whole house smells when your mum cooks achaar, the creepy uncles who softly touch your lower back through your salwar as you sidle by, or the loudness of the communities, the way dance and song envelop us, enchanting our functions with blurry ease. There are so many pockets across the world with an Indo-centric definition, and brown kids from Brampton might have nothing in common with the brown kids in Heathrow, yet the echo of the undefined territory booms louder than our shared similarities. As does the space, the cavity, the time that we lose not exploring it.Bend It Like Beckham is singular. In the recent years, nothing has come so close to unpacking our nuances and smudging our dearth of realities and embarrassments across a screen. We need to understand each other to understand ourselves—or, is it that we need to understand ourselves to understand each other?*Next to an off-white brick wall and a framed portrait of Sikh master Guru Nanak, Jess’s dad Mohaan (Anupam Kher) pours and sips a scotch. The family is tired, feet stretched along the middle table, saris lining the floor, bellies popping out to the side. Pinky’s wedding was a success, but Jess’s mother, Sukhi, didn’t know she dipped out during the wedding to play a football final, only to have a scout offer her a full scholarship to a university in California. Jess tells her mother the truth, the first time she declares her brilliance: “I played in the final today, and we won! I wasn't going to go but Dad let me. And it was brilliant. I played the best ever! And I was happy because I wasn't sneaking off and lying to you. I didn't ask to be good at football. Guru Nanak must have blessed me.” Sukhi is furious at her husband. “You let her leave her sister's wedding to go to a football match?!” He gets up, and paces. So rarely do we see a man wearing a turban have agency in a Western film. Mohaan is usually full of kindness, but today it’s wisdom, said through his teeth—recounting his own history of compromised self. “When those bloody English cricket players threw me out of their club like a dog...I never complained. On the contrary, I vowed that I will never play again. Who suffered? Me. But I don't want Jessie to suffer.”Sukhi stays on the dusty pink couch, her face a writhing mess, lined with frustration over why she has such a difficult un-Indian daughter. But in that moment, listening to her husband’s past, and knowing the weight of disappointment he carries, something turns. In some ways, he wanted more than this, too, but never took the chance to play it out. No parent is truly an oracle, but only blooming with blessings and fear.In many ways, Jess’s fate was never up to her parents, and that’s what a film like Bend It Like Beckham declares. Our autonomy is important for our own stories, and sometimes you just need to see someone who looks like you, and thinks like you, to win. “I want her to fight, and I want her to win,” Mohaan says. “I don’t think anybody has the right of stopping her.”
The Loneliness Recipe

When I get homesick in New York, I scour Chinatown for ingredients to make my Korean grandmother’s radish, or mu, soup. 

Every other New Year, I’ve withdrawn from the potentially memorable (or not so memorable) eve of clinking champagne flutes with strangers to rise soberly at 6 a.m. with my family in Virginia, for an ancestral food ceremony called jesa.These early mornings usually begin darker than day; a Prussian blue while my father wakes to light candles, opening the window to call his late father’s spirit in. The table takes a few hours to set, glorified with plates of dried fish, rice wine, jujubes, persimmon, pear, liver, and rice cake soup for my grandfather. After three rounds of synchronized bows, my sisters and I sit by his portrait to whisper gratitude and think of the other Lees who came and left before us. Once our silence is pardoned, we eat. Just as everyone’s ready to be done, grandma surprises us with more food, this time, with bowls of radish soup. During the Korean War she’d known what starvation was, and since then she has made sure that no one ever leaves a table still hungry. Eat more, she always insists.Until I’d left for college, I wouldn’t know what a New Year’s Eve party was like. Despite my appreciation for traditions now, most of my childhood battles spurred from the rigidness of my parents’ roots and a young thing’s need for freedom. In the summers, I still seek out some of the desires of my youth—sweet skin, soft flesh, and the unexpected, eating cold fruit in the landscapes of someplace new. But more than anything, rebellion is in doing the unprecedented: having no plans or edifice, to the point of averting stable bonds. Moving to New York. Leaving the only people you know with a suitcase in hand.But sometimes, here in the city, I get homesick, wanting nothing more than familiarity and the taste of radish soup.*Before the early seeds of Buddha and Confucius, Korea belonged to my ancestors as a shamanistic kingdom. The Korean word for shaman, mu, comes from China’s equivalent, wu. Mu is also a name for the Korean radish, or the shorter and stouter version of its better-known twin, the daikon.When China imported Confucianism into other regions, longevity was farmed in the soil of buried families worshipped by their children, who’d learned from them filial piety and the virtue of serving the desires of others before one’s own. Despite having these values ingrained in me, naturally I grew into the habits of Western individualism. Although I identify as an assimilated Korean-American, older Koreans like to fervently exercise the statement: But you’re not American. You’re Korean.The binary idealism of “east and west” isn’t much different from the way one prepares certain food, the fates of a meal commonly fixed by roles that have been established for generations. The milky broth of warm cucurbit soup is served for comfort and sustenance. But when dinner’s over, the lover’s mouth is reserved for a fare of sweetly glazed pericarps—grapes, cherries, strawberries. Often handfed, a gesture underlined as erotic, fruit has a reputation for scandal and pleasure—with famous appearances in Genesis and many nude paintings. Vegetables, on the other hand, often arrive tough and fashioned plainly in dirt—masculine, lacking mystique. In the tradition of animism, I like to consider the radish a maverick and hermaphroditic deity. One with a flexible identity. A specimen born phallic that, when left past the harvest, flowers to show off new private parts. Little fruit pods.*Preparing a special meal is a fortifying experience, requiring strategic planning and long-term thinking. In this particular case, I not only have to give up time, but find certain ingredients that don’t have English names. The radishes that make radish soup aren’t sold in many of the usual grocery chains, so I head for the Q train to Canal Street, the one place I can trust to have every type of produce.I begin to see Chinatown’s thumbprints around the subway station, its signature in those vibrant, red plastic grocery bags. Sanguine has two meanings. One is a shade of red like that of blood, and the other is comparable to being hopeful in times of strife. Both sentiments chronicle the shared bloodshed and poverty of our ancestors, through generations of conquest and resistance. Thanks to Confucian ideologies the dynasties shared, there was little resistance when the Hans invaded Korea in the 12th century. Aside from the way it’s remained largely homogenous, when I arrive to today’s bustling markets between Canal and Pell, there seems to be no room or time for resistance.Chinatown’s pulse is one that thrums through its tourists, vendors, and shoppers, shoulder-to-shoulder and all pacing swiftly in the chaotic frenzy of sidewalk traffic. Sanguine store signs line its capillaries. Sidewalk carts display an abundant array of fresh, foreign fruits—rambutan, mangosteen, lychee, dragonfruit. Y’all, look’it these spiky strawberries, a man shouts to his family in a Southern accent, pointing to a rambutan stand. I peer inside a small grocery market, perfumed with coriander and an undertone of musky dried squid. Next to a dated cash register are barrels of chestnuts and boxed Danish cookies, blue and white porcelains, but no radishes in sight. I smile at the clerk, say thank you and leave.Eventually, I come across a large Taiwanese bakery that turns into a fish market past the corridor, and for a moment I become Brigitte Lin in Chungking Express. The short fantasy ends as I walk out the exit, the evening’s rays replaced by neon violet lights. By now I’m hungry and consider going home, until I see, across the street, a sign that reads HONG KONG SUPERMARKET. It’s always when you give up on it that an answer reveals itself, I think. This supermarket smells of plastic curtains, herbal medicine in tin boxes, and candied ginger. In the produce aisle there are scallions, bean sprouts, and mushrooms of every kind. And, lo and behold, the radishes, with a sign that says 3 for $1.*On my way back to the subway, I pass by and notice two elderly women—one wearing a bucket hat rummaging for plastic bottles, and another waddling with a shopping cart full of quilted, unidentifiable objects. Though this sight isn’t new, in that moment I recall reading an earlier report on the rising number of elderly folks in Chinatown living alone. The forgotten ones. In Eastern countries, it’s common for adults to live at home and take care of their retired parents, but for those who’ve grown up like I have, the defiant desire to be on our own populates as we age further into our American ways. Self-reliance, consequently, unravels the thread of our once highly collectivist values more and more, leaving members of previous generations without resources to support themselves.From China, my ancestors had learned to cultivate rice, which apart from wars and ideologies, has brought our nations and many others together. Rice paddies require many farmers to work and drain their fields at the same time, and so making autonomous choices can be detrimental for the entire village. It’s from this mode of agriculture that the differences in individualism vs. collectivism are thought to stem, named by a group of students from the University of Virginia as “the rice theory.”I thought of this theory often when I lived with my former roommate, an Indian writer from Mumbai. The cultural dish we both shared was rice with curry. Our friendship formed by preparing this meal together. “This tastes like home,” Apoorva had said our first night. I too felt at home, having someone to regularly sit down with, easily and unintended. She ate rice with her hands, and I with my chopsticks—openly and plainly, the way our families do at home. After learning of her extensive knowledge in European literature, I ask her if she’s able to discuss these interests with her family back in India. Do you feel like they understand you and your interests here? “Yes. Well, sometimes. Even if they don’t, I think having things to bring back and discuss with the people at home is our duty as any cross-cultural member.” Cross-cultural, I’d nod and mentally repeat to myself. Words that sometimes still echo but are too often forgotten.*Walking a few blocks from the train, I catch a remarkable glimpse of a family in a restaurant, praying over their dinner. Family—the taxa between genus and order. I think of perishables. In this case: produce, people, and tradition. When all you’ve known is tradition, there’s a certain terror in realizing that the structures you grew up with start collapsing as you age, eventually left up to you to uphold or lose. Religion, holidays, eating dinner at the same time. But something like a brief, momentary view into that family’s evening is a still and softening reminder of how some things can stay constant.A Taiwanese friend had once told me the Chinese word for good derives from two characters—one that symbolizes woman and the other child. To cultivate life, a child needs their mother, women need each other, and society—the standards of our ancestors. I look at my bag of radishes, the roots of my childhood enduringly rattling and carried with me wherever I go.
Waterpark, with Occasional Nazis

There’s nothing like trying to face your fears and reclaim your childhood to remind you that everything you believed was good and pure is a lie.

"Neo-nazis love waterparks," my boyfriend, Collin, said as three skinheads in combat boots, T-shirts slung over their shoulders, shuffled toward the ticket line in front of us. There is nothing like a blue-green swastika on a pimpled back to remind you that everything you believed was good and pure as a child was a lie.I was twenty-seven the first time I went to a waterpark. Up until then, I’d only seen one from the backseat of my parents’ car, when the blur of treetops gave way to a life-sized toy-set in the distance. The turquoise bubble letters, the towering coil of the waterslide, was Oz-like and glistening as we passed it by. Growing up in New York City, slides dropped you off on hard cement, and family fun meant tickets to an Off-Broadway Neil Simon play starring Judd Hirsch. Fear was an unlit side-street, the third rail of the subway tracks, a rogue taxi speeding through a yellow light—a thing to be avoided, rather than conquered. That may explain why, even as an adult, I envied the kids in commercials, who dove face-first down watery chutes, plunging into pools on rubber donuts. They were fearless in their aquamarine world, and I believed I would be too.Plus, it was hot. Our air conditioner was broken and it was mid-August in Manhattan. When I proposed driving to a New Jersey waterpark, Collin was on board. From the car window, the skyline of slides grew close enough to establish their hierarchy. Least impressive was the Lazy River, a flat in-ground pool that wound around the park. Ranked just above it was the horizontal, elevated wavy slide, and above that, a spinning red and black wheel. But the centerpiece of the park was an enormous yellow tube with a breathtaking vertical drop that finished with a series of spirals.“I’m going to do that one first,” I announced, as we pulled into the parking lot. But at the ticket line, face-to-back with a swastika, my anxiety kicked in.Combat boots on concrete. The ghosts of hot dog burps. The windy wails of humans turned upside-down.Collin headed for the yellow slide, which, upon closer inspection, was taller than it seemed before, the plastic more brittle. Even the color was different—less orange juice, more sawdust.I needed to build up my nerve, so I headed towards the Lazy River. Along the way, the concrete was spattered with dark stains—a trail of shimmery blood puddles stamped with toe-prints. A waterpark crime scene. I panicked and scanned the area. The mood was buzzy, elevated, teeming with children, flesh intact, dripping pool water off their fingers. A leaky ketchup bottle, chocolate sauce from a melting cone, that was all it was—or what it might have been, if the liquid had been thicker, darker, less blood-like. Blood is blood, and still, I pretended it wasn’t.Sitting in a rubber donut, toilet-style, I drifted pleasantly down the Lazy River until I noticed a Band-Aid floating belly-up alongside me. Paddling it away didn’t work—we were riding the same current. When I got out of the pool, my swimsuit bottom sagged with water. The Band-Aid leeched to one cheek.I waved at Collin, his wild blond hair now soaked flat and darkened. He’d already been on the Wheel of Doom and the giant yellow slide. Twice.A group of pre-teen boys rushed past us, pulled off their shirts and handed them to another boy in a wheelchair. The handles of his chair dangled with knapsacks. I watched the boy in the wheelchair watch his friends, one by one, shoot across the horizontal slide.“Don’t go on that one.” Collin pointed to another ride obscured by a thin jungle of fake trees.“Why, what’s that one?” I asked.“I think it’s a rope swing with a large drop,” he said. “But look, people keep getting hurt.”On cue, a golf cart ambulance pulled up in front of the ride. When the siren sounded, I caught my open mouth with one hand.“Having fun yet?” he asked. His sarcasm annoyed me, because I knew he actually was having fun, and he knew I wasn’t. These were our assigned roles: he was the one who delighted in the absurd, I was the absurd. Once, he’d said my temperament reminded him of a horse. “Because they scare so easily.” I was tired of him seeing me this way. I was supposed to be different at a waterpark.So I climbed the ladder to the tall yellow slide, rail by rusted rail, until I reached the platform where the view stretched all the way to the parking lot. The entry point of the slide was a slick, dark canal—a hole with no bottom. The teenager in charge was rushing riders through, one on top of the other, not factoring in the chance that someone might be stuck inside the tube. I wondered if someone ever got stuck inside the tube. “You can go ahead of me,” I told a few small kids behind me and then waited to see if they survived. The teenager said something like, “Only way to go is down,” but there was that ladder I’d come up on, and technically it went both ways. “Be right back,” I said, suggesting I’d forgotten an important slide-related device I’d return with shortly, and toed my way back down the ladder, certain I’d made the right decision.At the bottom, a shivery little girl in a pink suit was standing there, pointing at me. “You’re the grown-up who chickened out!” she yelled, before climbing up the ladder for a second go-round.At a table overlooking the park, Collin and I dunked corndogs in yellow mustard, and listened for the golf cart siren, reliable as a church bell chiming every quarter-hour. I told him how sad I felt for the boy in the wheelchair. “Aw,” he said, “maybe he was enjoying himself, even if he couldn’t go on the slides.” I tried to imagine this. I changed the subject.“I don’t think I can do the yellow slide,” I said.“You have to do the yellow slide,” he said. “That’s the whole point of coming to a waterpark.”Early on in our relationship he’d given me a crash course on all the suburban pleasures I’d missed as a child. The first time he took me to his hometown, we found a trampoline in a wooded area and jumped holding hands, until a neighbor chased us away. Later, we visited an amusement park, an arcade emporium with go-karts, a renaissance faire, a mini-golf course on the Jersey shore. We sang “Wheel in the Sky” the whole ride there, pretending we were teenagers from another era we’d narrowly missed. Back then, it felt as if he’d found an artery in my neck that, when pressed, would let the steam out.He moved in with me. He lost his job. He left gum balled in wrappers on the floor, and stuffed a drawer with wires, the remnants of musical instruments he’d locked away in a storage bin. Now he would wake in the middle of the night to strum his guitar. He plucked the melody to “Wheel in the Sky,” slow and sad, in a darkened room away from me. In the morning, we packed two bath-towels in a beach bag. In the afternoon, I looked up at the yellow slide and saw what he meant. The point was to reach the thing you’d seen in the distance, and to believe it was exactly what you’d hoped for, even if it wasn’t.So I climbed back up the ladder, and when it was my turn, I laid down inside the dark, wet intestine. Inside, it smelled of sugar and cleaning agents, a mopped school hallway. First came the drop, the worst part, I told myself before mental predictions were muted by the present tense and organs sloshing, body rag-dolling, the helplessness of my own arms to steady the momentum. Slipping warps time, stretching a moment of uncertainty into an operatic final reckoning. As I slid downward, I ran through the whole playlist—disbelief, regret, flight, fight and resignation—until I was suddenly perched in the curve of a plastic tube. It was dark inside the yellow spiral, but still, unfortunately, yellow—like the unpolished insides of a child’s toy.A wet blob of flesh pressed against my back. “Move, Move!” it said. I duck-pedaled around a spiral, then another spiral, until I was dropping again, this time, down the part of the slide that was exposed. The tube’s top half was gone, and in its place was the boundless, elevated view of a bad decision. The waterpark below unfolded like a boardgame—flat, distant, improbable. For a second, I was grateful when the slide’s top-half returned.But the last drop was unexpected. Light broke through the tunnel. I doggy-paddled the air. The tube was now the absence of a tube. The punchline of the joke had become the beat before the laughter, when you are suspended alone, with only the echo of what you did, and not what it means. The pool smacked me good and pushed my head down. There was only turquoise and burning. I gulped chlorine. I gulped breath. A lifeguard’s hand plucked me up by the swimsuit strap and pushed me towards the shallow exit stairs.“I think you landed wrong,” Collin said, standing on the ledge, holding out a towel. I opened my mouth and when nothing came out, I shut it again. My arms and legs ached from seizing up. My chest was heavy with the weight of something. I tried to inflate it, but my breath sputtered out. “You okay?” he asked. I shook my head, and took the towel from his hands.We headed back towards the parking lot. The blood-stains on the ground had browned in the sun. A siren bleated. Wails whirl-pooled around us. One lone neo-Nazi finished up his Slurpee as he waited in line for the Wheel of Doom.
‘It’s Both Excruciating and the Opposite of Excruciating’: An Interview with Darcie Wilder

Speaking with the author of literally show me a healthy person about the genesis of her new book, the power in learning to talk about yourself, and the joys and perils of growing up online.

“Is it okay that we’re already Twitter friends?” I asked my editors at this here ol’ Hazlitt Mag when they approached me about interviewing Darcie Wilder about her new book, literally show me a healthy person (Tyrant Books). I’ve interviewed a number of people for Hazlitt, but nobody with whom I was already friends, and I wanted to be transparent up front.The problem is, literally everyone is Twitter friends with Darcie. She tweets under the super SEO-friendly handle @333333333433333 to over seventy thousand followers, sharing thoughts that could be considered jokes to a person who considers getting punched in the gut hilarious. Her fan base includes mall punks, sad people on the internet, myself, the people at MTV News (who hired Darcie to be the voice of their social media), and people who know what their moon sign is without needing to look it up.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/605092807838183424[/tweet_embed]literally show me a healthy person is very much a book of its time—the first line is “khdjysbfshfsjtstjsjts” [sic]—but it’s also an age-old story, somewhere between poetry and prose, about a young woman who is maybe named Darcie Wilder trying and learning how to be okay. Told in Speedboat-like fragments (including, yes, some under 140 characters), Darcie explores her own experiences with grief following her mother’s death, as well as recollections of lousy sex, decent sex with lousy men, and White Castle jalapeno cheeseburgers. For a book that sounds like such a bummer when I describe it, it made me laugh a whole lot.Darcie and I spoke over Gchat, because both of us avoid talking on the phone unless absolutely necessary.*Anna Fitzpatrick: Hello DarcieDarcie Wilder: Hi Anna, helloAre you ready to talk about art, literature, and who can forget: truth?Hmmmm *thinkyface emoji*I think I am ready to discuss art, literature, and who can forget: truth.If you areOkay let's start.You wrote a book! You are an authoress.*Brandy voice* The book is mineThe first time I heard someone describe literally show me a healthy person, they called it a novel. So I pictured something, like, by Dickens, because he's who I think of when I think of novels. And in a way, your book is a little Dickensian. There is a sad child (you). But it’s not a novel, and it's not really a memoir. What would you call it?[Several minutes go by. Darcie does not answer.]Do you not like this question?You get three "passes," like in truth or dareJK you can have as many passes as you wantHmmm. Yeah it’s tricky. Whenever anyone asks about it my face gets hot and I start stuttering and trailing off and they say, “You’ve really gotta work on this, Darcie.” And then I call it a novel, which is what the cover says. And it’s not a conventionally structured novel, but it’s a narrative. It’s kind of like, I guess, the literary version of an experimental documentary.lmao lmaoYou can also “pass” if my answers suck[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/672220431181611008[/tweet_embed]Shhh no, we are both geniuses and we will behave as such.Women are always apologizing for who we are. For being too confident, or too sure of our work, or for being too tall, or not tall enough, or for being somewhere in between, height-wise. So really we are feminist revolutionaries, talking right now.Is it hard for you to talk about yourself?Oh it's both excruciating and the opposite of excruciating. It took me a while to realize I both desperately love and desperately hate attention in incredible, exactly equal amounts. Also I feel like you can hate attention and desperately need it, which is the case for me.Thank you for being a feminist revolutionary with me, AnnaI mean, there's tweeting about yourself, but that's different. There's a remove to it.Yes.Do you think about your audience when you tweet? You have a trillion followers—do you have an idea in mind who is reading what you put out in the world?Yeah, I think about my audience all the time. I used to be more in tune with it, which would translate into being more strategic about posting, and I was better about forming relationships and DMing. But more recently I feel less in tune with it, maybe because of the swarms of bots and feeling differently about a lot after the election. I also feel like my audience is too large (please do not unfollow me) and I miss what it felt like around 2015. I don’t feel like I can be as open or fun or experimental. Now I'm like, who are these people? Why are you interested in me? I don't get it. But I do get it, because I've spent years working at tweeting and writing and presenting myself in this specific way. I've put in a lot of labor and thought, but sometimes I just think it's all absurd, or doesn't make sense, which is, I think, a way for me to dismiss myself.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/738033102279299073[/tweet_embed]It's kind of led to your career! You tweet for work, and there is a lot of overlap between your Twitter and your novel. Can you talk a little about how the book came to be? Were you approached about doing this?Yes! My friend Spencer Madsen asked if I would be interested in writing a book for Sorry House, and I started assembling it (although it ended up coming out on Tyrant Books). In 2012 I started writing a lot of flash fiction and assorted small things in the same type of voice that drives the book. But I wasn’t sure what to do with it until I assembled a few pages for a zine in 2014, where I found the structure that became the structure of the book. Then with the prompt of a book, I began assembling the blocks of text and lines I had written into an arc with reoccurring themes and ideas. I looked through my tweets, too, so some of the book has been tweeted before, but it became this arc that I plotted out and filled in.It really is a book that teaches you how to read it while you read it. At first, it seems like a bunch of loosely related thoughts, but then this story starts to present itself through these fragments. What, if any, books or movies or zines or conceptual art projects did you look to when you were working on this?Stanya Kahn’s It’s Cool, I’m Good has been most influential on my work in general because of the tone she uses and the tension between humor and really dark concepts. I feel like there are two parts of my brain, the one that thrives off teen movies like Never Been Kissed and The Princess Diaries and Empire Records and Doom Generation and stuff, and then the other part that’s drawn to this stuff that might be difficult to sit through, like Peter Hutton’s films. Structurally, a lot of stuff that’s more lyrical like Putty Hill, or Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s, which also balances that existential dread, darkness, and humor. Also, always Maria Bamford.Also I think the way Ted Berrigan talks about death in his poem “Memorial Day” [with Anne Waldman] has influenced me a lot in the way I recount my experiences with grief, I kind of always think of this one recording of him reading it.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/683030075055431684[/tweet_embed]When did you read that poem? Before or after you dealt with similar experiences of your own?I think I found it right before my mom died, so around 2007. I originally heard the audio portion and then I found the whole poem, which was difficult because it's not online anywhere, and there are certain lines that have stuck with me for forever, and that as time goes on I'll stumble upon seemingly just when I need them. Like, "the heart stops briefly when someone dies, one slow stroke as they go from your outside life to your inside life. and everything continues, samely" didn't resonate as much in 2010 as it did in 2013, or vice versa.That line is really lovely.But he writes these long parts about people dealing with death and the ability to love, and it reminds me of having a running nose on a cold day, and just describing these moments right after learning that there's an incredible loss, these lists of actions that seem both innocuous and profound and I'm like: fuck, writing poetry about death and that feeling is like the hardest thing on the planet. Like it's soft and hard at the same time.I think there is this idea of millenials on Twitter, doing the internet today, that everything is fuelled by a sense of irony. But there is a lot of (HERE IT COMES) truth in your work. You blend sincerity with these observations about how bleak or mundane or bizarre life can be even if it doesn’t make literary sense in a traditional way. (I think that’s why your followers like you) :)You talk about developing this "voice" in your book. Is that your voice? Is there a difference between who you are as a person and who you are when you write/tweet?Thank you! Yeah, I think people play up how much of the internet is “irony” when they really mean “self-aware” or something? I do think this book is my voice, or one of my voices. I think it’s confusing because I’m not sure what my voice or book means to someone else, the different associations or conclusions they’re drawing, so it’s difficult for me to subscribe to that. Like in those game shows where you pick a number and the curtain reveals what could either be a brand new car or a frying pan, and you’re not sure until it’s too late. Which I think is prevalent in my work as a major theme—“do these words mean the same thing to you as they do me?” or “do these words have power?” or “can you hear me?” or “what the fuck is going on?”But yes, I think there’s a difference between who I am and what I tweet, I’m just not always exactly sure what the difference is at any moment. There are also some word associations or sentences that should exist in the world, and don’t need anyone to @-reply with a “well, actually” or caveat to the sentiment. Tweets are an imperfect medium, so I think there’s a lot of frustrating ways they can be received.Does it ever get hard for you, getting personal? Especially when you write about your family? Sorry, that's such an anxiety-inducing question that makes me sound like "DARCIE, WYD?????" It’s an anxiety that I have when I write, this question of, why am I doing it? And I think for me ultimately it's trying to understand something about myself, trying to relate to others, trying to give others something to relate to, trying to get paid, and also I like the attention. But I wonder what it's like for other people.Yes! Absolutely. Lately I’ve been freaking out because I really just didn’t think about my family reading it. For some reason I’m fine with getting really personal about myself, partially because if I do it and make it known knowledge, it feels more powerful and less like a secret, which feels like weakness. Even though boundaries and privacy are the opposite of weakness! But sometimes it’s hazy when my story ends and another person’s story begins, which is why I like reminding people that it’s a mix of fact and fiction.But I learned to make art by making diary films, and would have a breakdown, like, every single time because of that “why am I doing this?”-type stuff. And I don’t know, but people tell me that it’s helpful. I mean, I’m not a journalist, this stuff isn’t saving the world, but it’s helping someone feel better, so it deserves to exist. There’s a lot of strife I could have avoided, and would be a better adjusted person, had I been exposed to the right pieces of art and writing that just helped me reconcile my feelings, and that stuff needs to be personal.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/846902354871894016[/tweet_embed]There's a power in talking about yourself, though, because you are controlling your own narrative. I mean, we are the same age (you are four days older), and we grew up on the internet when it was still a place for freaks before the normies took over, and our lives have always been intertwined with that. Like, all my secrets exist somewhere in old forum posts, or texts, or Livejournal entries, or tweets, or DMs, or emails, or whatever, and I used to be terrified of being doxxed. But now I make jokes about all of my secrets: I'm a pervert! Sometimes I want to die! And then they stop being secrets and start being things that get faves and RTs. There is a freedom in putting your shit out there, and being like, "So?"YESOr turning it into an essay or book and getting paid for it.I just want to say the first public thing I put online was when I was on the Alternative Press forums and I asked what nu-metal was and why everyone hated it.omgBut also, yes—so much crap online about me. So many mistakes and fuck-ups. For me, at least.I have posts in the IMDB forums about why Legally Blonde is subversive and feminist and Legally Blonde 2 was just capitalizing on the success of the first and is a hollow shell.oh my godLuckily, IMDB deleted the forums earlier this year and no one will ever see them again. Do you remember your first experiences with ... THE INTERNET????YES! I do. We got a computer in 1998 or 1999, I think. And then I was in some sort of special program in public school that gave us laptops, so I've mostly always had my own computer and grew up online. I didn't know how to have a conversation IRL until post-college, and have always been more comfortable typing and having the space to think about who I am and what I want to say before I do.But even still, I wasn't super comfortable with it until 2012 when I started being more free—like, the first paragraph of my book is a Facebook status from February 2012, and I remember that was a turning point where I was open to sharing online instead of being scared and defensive and figuring out what I should be or do.(But I had a million Xangas and Livejournals and used to differentiate whether they were for online or IRL friends for some reason.)How did that feel?It felt really freeing and different, but also scary. But once the switch flips, it was done. It's kind of like, "what's the worst that can happen" and "let'r rip" and "who cares," even though sometimes I really, really care.God it is so hard not to care. I keep trying to be cool on the internet but then I care too much and ruin it.Ugh, same. You have to care a little, I think. Nihilists are terrible.It's weird because it seems that there is this crop of Twitter people who are becoming more visible who combine not caring with political activism. And it seems to be a competition about who can be the most right, or clever. And I want to ask, "but what do you CARE about?"I identify with what you're saying. People care about those faves and RTs, and they also care about calling out people for caring about those faves and RTs. It's also weird that very serious thoughts and feelings are on the same timeline as jokes, etc.! I miss message boards where we separated things out more. I think people quit Twitter altogether because we are in one big room having a lot of conversations that require very different tones and moods, and it takes a lot to have them simultaneously—it's the best and worst part of Twitter.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/844539217422245888[/tweet_embed]Final questionDUN DUN DUNNNNNNNomg!How are you feeling?In general or right now?Yes.Everything.LOLRight now I feel grateful and content because I enjoy talking to you, and this has made me remember that I like my book and my life and making work and art and writing in general. I also had a lot of coffee and nice time with my coworkers today, which are two of my favorite things. I'm also a bit anxious and scared because I always am. How are you?I am good because the weather is getting nicer and I'm talking to my pal Darcie and she is interesting! I am a bit stressed because I don’t know where I’m going in life and I don’t know if that even matters in this current political climate. But I wrote down all the artists and poets and filmmakers and stuff you messaged above, and I'm looking forward to checking them all out later.And I love your book and am happy you are putting it out in the world.Thank YOU. Ugh I'm glad you like it. Recently I looked at it and was like, "Oh, I understand how someone could hate this," and like, okay, fine.[tweet_embed]https://twitter.com/333333333433333/status/644713259334004736[/tweet_embed]
A Season of Reckoning For a ‘White Man’s Sport’

As the most immigrant-dependent and racially diverse sport in the United States, baseball this year seems primed to either lose its politically aloof pose at last or look progressively ridiculous.

Paint the Corners is a new monthly column about baseball.Baseball is infamous for making fools out of prognosticators, but there’s one thing we can say with near-certainty about the 2017 MLB season: it’s going to be a let-down. No game played this year has a chance of matching the multilayered, prolonged tension and release of the final game of the 2016 season, and there’s a good chance no game will come close for the rest of our lives. I have no allegiance to the Cubs and frankly had a slight rooting interest in Cleveland, but a five-hour, white-knuckle World Series Game 7 is the kind of thing that makes this lugubrious, frustrating sport seem like a grand adventure. We will be boring small children with the details of this game in our old age: multiple comebacks on both sides, heroics from a deserving veteran and the humiliation of an utter villain, and even an after-midnight rain delay that would have been cut from a movie script for heavy-handedness. The Cubs played three games facing elimination, and their final ten November innings ended the longest championship drought in pro sports: even the box score reads like a Russian novel.Thankfully, baseball doesn’t require this kind of drama to be wonderful. It’s almost a relief to return to the first days of a new season, when stakes are low and enjoyment is all in the finer details: well-executed double plays, loping curve balls, no-name players finding sudden glory, beer in the sun and hot dogs under the lights. This game is all about atmosphere and small pleasures, the endless repetition of a few set movements that somehow creates a meaningfully different outcome every time. It rewards obsession, almost demands it, because context and history are its lifeblood. They are what add grandeur to the odd, pastoral scene of men in tight pants and button-up shirts attempting and failing to circle a dirt path.And while 2017 will almost definitely lack the on-field excitement of last year, it could very well end up being an epochal season in other subtler ways. Only days after red and blue confetti blanketed Michigan Avenue, the presidential election made baseball, as everything else, feel helplessly small and potentially endangered. Whatever happens on the field this season, it will take place against a background of multiple daily unfolding scandals and moral atrocities. History and context will be everything. Major League Baseball and the larger culture around the sport tend to ignore any political discussion, but this will be the first season amid a modern political regime that is expressly dedicated to fighting immigrants and minorities. As the most immigrant-dependent and racially diverse sport in the United States, baseball seems primed to either lose its politically aloof pose at last or look progressively ridiculous. Regardless, this is a new kind of test for a game that thrives on continuity: baseball during Trump. No aspect of our lives or society is safe from politics now, or from the threat of enormous disruption, and this is true even for the sport that requires constant, mantra-like assuagements from its players that they’re “just focused on the game,” “taking it one day at a time,” or “trying to give the team a chance to win.”Not even ballplayers have the luxury of that kind of single-mindedness anymore. Not when ICE raids are terrorizing the urban Latino communities that comprise an essential part of MLB’s future growth and outreach, and not when Trump’s approval rating hovers near that of gangrene in the densely populated regions that host pro ballparks. Perhaps in recognition of this, Trump has already forsaken tradition by declining to throw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ home opener, and none of the other twenty-nine MLB teams appear interested in pressing the issue. This is meaningless but still unprecedented, and illustrates Trump’s bizarre indifference to the dream-come-true opportunities of the office; no president since Taft has avoided the supreme executive privilege to lob a meatball fifty feet and wave. Even his absence is a challenge to the game’s no-politics front.The cracks in the façade really began to show late last season, after Trump won the Republican nomination around the All-Star break and Colin Kaepernick dominated coverage of the NFL’s first weeks. Asked why no MLB players had attempted a similar protest, Adam Jones, the black center fielder and default captain for my Baltimore Orioles, told USA Today that “baseball is a white man’s sport,” and black players don’t have nearly the sway they hold in football. He then broadened the conversation to address wider double standards: “We make a lot of money, so we just have to talk baseball, talk football. But most athletes, especially if you’re tenured in your sport, you’re educated on life, and on more things than most people on the outside. But because Donald Trump is a billionaire, he can say whatever he wants, because he’s older and has more money? And when Kaepernick does something, or says something, he’s ridiculed. Why is that?’’Only a month later, the Los Angeles Dodgers traveled to Chicago to face the Cubs in the National League Championship Series and stayed in a Trump-owned hotel. Beloved Mexican-American first baseman Adrian Gonzalez opted to stay elsewhere, though like a good ballplayer, he made no great show of it. When the story leaked to the media through a Dodgers’ broadcaster, Gonzalez responded with the requisite caveats: “I don’t want this to be a story… I wasn’t doing it for the publicity… I don’t intend to create a political debate.” Just trying to give the team a chance to win.Jones and Gonzalez are both wealthy veteran players, scandal-free family men, and the faces of their franchises. They should have as much clout to speak their minds as anyone in the sport. And yet both made headlines for staking out relatively cautious positions, and both expressed publicly that they are constrained in various ways from taking greater action. Given the hysterical objection that Kaepernick still inspires—including from Trump himself—who could blame them? And Kaepernick plays a game that’s majority-minority.To that last point: baseball occupies an odd space in the spectrum of U.S. sports. It is both the most genuinely diverse game and, as a result, also the most white. According to the current Racial and Gender Report Card published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, MLB players are fifty-nine percent white, twenty-nine percent Latino, and eight percent black. That’s more than double the percentage of white players in either the NBA or NFL and a small fraction of the percentage of black players in those leagues. Neither basketball nor football fields a statistically significant number of Latinos or Asians, and MLB’s increasing reliance on those demographics also lends it a diversity of nationalities that the other leagues can’t touch.Polyglot rosters have been a hallmark of the MLB for ages; in the earliest days of “townball” and regional teams throughout New York state, baseball was a largely immigrant game. The most iconic teams in the modern era, the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers of the ’40s and ’50s, were, in the judgment of historian Jules Tygiel, models of racial equality. The Dodgers of that era, needless to say, fielded Jackie Robinson, while “the Giants lineup,with Whitey Lockman, Don Mueller, and Larry Jansen—had a substantial contingent of German extraction. Sal Maglie, Carl Furillo, [Ralph] Branca, and Roy Campanella were the sons of Italian immigrants. Clem Labine was of French-Canadian heritage; Andy Pafko, Hungarian; Ray Noble, Cuban. Along the benches sat players with ethnic surnames like Abrams, Hermanski, Palica, Miksis, Koslo, and Podbielan.”Ironically, baseball’s very diversity may account for some of its small-c conservatism and squeamishness towards social justice issues. In a locker room with that many skin tones and backgrounds, it may be hard to find political consensus, and so politics in general can become a third rail. But diversity also doesn’t signal equality, and even in mid-century, when the definition of “white” was far more limited, the sport was largely native-born white guys: “a majority of the [Giants’] players hailed from the American South and Midwest,” Tygiel acknowledges, and today, despite the MLB’s genuinely global player base and audience draw, that remains the case.Even if a player doesn’t match that profile, there’s a good chance that their road to the majors will require them to live around people who do. Major League teams may play exclusively in urban (or at least suburban) markets, but the vast amateur and minor-league networks through which players travel upward—what Donald Hall deemed baseball’s “peripheries”—are far more rural (and far more white). Look, for example, at this map of each MLB team’s minor-league affiliates. The world-champion Cubs, trademark franchise of America’s third-largest city, draw on a farm system that plays in Peoria, Des Moines, Knoxville, and Daytona Beach. And those are relative metropolises compared to the farm-system satellites for other clubs. The Kansas City Royals, champions in 2015, incubate their talent in Idaho Falls, Springdale, Arkansas, and Burlington, Iowa.Then there’s the so-called “JuCo” baseball circuit, the surprisingly fertile network of junior colleges that serve as de facto MLB training grounds, largely in the southeast and Gulf Coast. Ever heard of Chipola College, near the eastern edge of the Florabama line? Me neither, at least until I learned that this 2,200-student campus has supplied the world with a staggering 164 current and former major league baseball players—a list that does happen to include this past offseason’s most prized free agent (at least in his own mind), José Bautista, but also my hometown hero Steve Clevenger, who routinely crushed my own hapless high school team back when he played for Mount St. Joseph in the Baltimore suburbs. Clevenger went on to play a few years with the Orioles, but ended the 2016 season on a ten-game suspension without pay from the Seattle Mariners for tweeting that President Obama and Black Lives Matter protesters deserved to be “locked behind bars like animals.” During the offseason, he was joined by Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, someone who is widely known for being smart, in the pantheon of Twitter-enabled conservative baseball rubes—a gang whose North Star, Curt Schilling, played JuCo ball at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona.This isn’t to say that every rural-raised American or junior-college ballplayer is a Republican or a Trump supporter, just that a good number of the MLB’s players spend their professional lives in areas far less cosmopolitan and diverse than the cities they wear across their chests in the pros. And in a country where political fate is now closely aligned with population density, baseball’s geographic, ideological, and ethnic diversity have forced it into atypical relevance: it resembles the U.S. in all its multicultural, reactionary complexity better than any other sports league.In just the past few months, for example, the Royals lost pitcher Yordano Ventura to a fatal car crash along a dirt road near his Dominican hometown, and saw a white reliever miss spring training after tumbling through the roof of his Oklahoma barn. What other sport can claim such a broad range of backgrounds among its players? And how could such a sport plausibly claim separation from politics while our president yammers endlessly about walls and exclusion and real Americans?Baseball, of course, isn’t nearly free of that kind of bluster, as new St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler found out this winter. After daring to express modest concern about Trump’s initial Muslim ban, Fowler, who was born in Atlanta, heard a chorus of “Go back where you came from” and plenty worse across social media, as might be expected from the fans that made their own Darren Wilson jerseys in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in nearby Ferguson. Baseball has been walking this tightrope for generations, balancing between inclusivity and tradition, urban teams and rural culture, the  “America’s Pastime” mythos and the most immigrant-dependent recruiting structure in American sports. But in 2017, with these battles spilling into every aspect of our society, baseball will have no choice but to acknowledge them outright. I suspect it will not be pretty. It will certainly bum out the “just play the game” set. But the sport will be more fascinating for it.