Hazlitt Magazine

The Year in Gritty: Birth of a New God

We don’t have to be monsters, but we can have a monster as our god. A god of justice, a god of righteous vengeance, a god of fire and fury, a god of Saturnalian fun.

The Year in Thrift

As I moved into a house where I hope to stay forever, I spent a lot of time with things other people left behind. 

The Year in Chores

This year, time flew marked by dishes, laundry, trash, repeat. Occasionally I was seized with the worry that I was not doing the correct things.

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The Year in Gritty: Birth of a New God

We don’t have to be monsters, but we can have a monster as our god. A god of justice, a god of righteous vengeance, a god of fire and fury, a god of Saturnalian fun.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Gritty is the dumb and ugly hockey mascot revealed by the Philadelphia Flyers on September 24 of this cursed year. Nothing was expected of it (of him?), beyond some local news coverage, some local outrage on Sports Twitter. But the world took notice, because Gritty is the visual and physical embodiment of the epic troll: weird on purpose, both frightening and idiotic, at turns lovable and violent, so “on brand” as to be stubbornly memorable even when you’d rather forget. At seven feet tall and with a head made of wild orange hair dotted with googly eyes, Gritty is an epic troll. The Era picks its heroes and icons, and the people tasked with typing these “The Year In …” think pieces are left to come up with excuses for our society’s failings, the rapid de-evolution of Western Civilization, the lowness of our culture. And it doesn’t matter. Gritty will win because Gritty already won. That feeling you had when you first saw Gritty? That’s what it felt like when people first saw Elvis Presley on TV, or Darth Vader in a movie theater, or Joan of Arc leading the charge on Orléans in 1429, or when a sin-jowled Nixon punched his stubby V-sign fingers into the air before a helicopter hauled him away from the White House. Dread, love, fear, wonder, disgust. Whatever the emotion, it comes with the mark of things forever changed. Does Gritty look and act like the meth-lab offspring of Doug Ford and Donald Trump? Yes, this is undeniably true. Is Gritty vulgar and foul-tempered? Watch the monster in ecstasy as he fondles his huge belly, or driven into a rage by a Mites On Ice child player during intermission. (Gritty picked up that kid and threw him in the penalty box, the same penalty box that Gritty destroyed in a separate fury on October 23.) With each wantonly fireable offense—viciously bodychecking the goalies, shooting Flyers’ promotions staff in the back with the T-shirt gun, beating up Rangers fans after dumping popcorn in their hair, threatening to murder the Pittsburgh Penguins’ mascot—Gritty’s fame and influence grows. It is here where the Ford Nation/Deplorables parallels are impossible to deny. Yet Gritty’s vile behavior is evidence not of privilege or fake populism, but of True Grit. It doesn’t matter that he’s the mascot for a $750-million NHL franchise. Gritty immediately transcended his late-capitalism brand origins. As the socialist quarterly Jacobin announced just days after the mascot’s debut: “Gritty is a worker.” The inevitable Philadelphia protests timed for Trump’s visit on October 2 witnessed the birth of Gritty as an anti-billionaire working-class street brawler. If Trump finally allowed the racists and nationalists to start saying the quiet parts loud, Gritty gave the New Left permission to wear guillotine T-shirts they’d previously only “liked” on @dasharez0ne's Twitter feed, and the gall to demand and fight for a Green New Deal, to free the American left from asking permission anymore. Not for health care, not for good-paying jobs, not for free college, not for justice. Of course Gritty can take down the soft boys of the Alt-Right, but his ultimate goal (beyond eating Zamboni snow) is a joyfully chaotic destruction of Late Capitalism and its long-protected vulture class. Of course the mascot belongs to Philadelphia, the monster’s personality being the beloved stereotype of the chip-on-the-shoulder loud-mouth drunken Flyers’ fan (or player) living off Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey and cheese steaks and pills stolen from grandma. Brian Allen, a commercial artist and Penn State alumnus with a retro comic-book style, was contracted to come up with the mascot and presented 20 sketches. Flyers’ management “picked a big dumpy monster I had drawn as the starting point,” Allen said. Of course it was the starting point. Gritty was born of a Jungian vision. The artist is the weapon of the muse. And, as designed and intended, the instant revulsion shown for this “ghastly empty-eyed muppet” on global social media made him instantly and forever embraced by his hometown, a city where the trash is never picked up, a city that bombed itself, a city that calls itself the birthplace of liberty. Within weeks of his birth, or unearthing, there was an official proclamation from the Philadelphia City Council: “WHEREAS, Gritty may be a hideous monster, but he is our hideous monster.” The tattoo parlors were already doing a brisk business in garish Gritty designs. The jack o’lanterns hurled by Philadelphia’s street urchins this past Halloween were mostly carved with variations of Gritty’s death grin. But the city now shares their deranged hockey monster with the world, with the rise of the new global left. The faux-populist horrors of recent years have seen occasional calls for the leftist and socialist opposition to adopt Trumpian behavior, to elevate cretins and scumbags to positions of leadership. Human disasters such as Michael Avenatti—who insanely believed his legal representation of one of Trump’s adult-actress mistresses made him eligible for the Democratic presidential nomination—are evidence of why out-Trumping Trump or out-Fording the Fords never works when your cause is the Good Cause, the moral one, the one that will prevail if we as a species will continue our civilization here on this landfill-covered melting planet. Gritty gives us an out: We don’t have to be monsters, but we can have a monster as our god. A god of justice, a god of righteous vengeance, a god of fire and fury, a god of Saturnalian fun. This is why Gritty stirs something deep within the souls of people long divorced from the old religions, which have weakened and splintered into identity camps of mealy-mouthed do-gooders or dumb extremists, a realm where nobody actually believes any of it. Gritty asks for nothing but Total Faith, faith that this spirit of chaos and working-class strength and wild ceremony can be channeled into action, everywhere. You can’t say you want to see Trump on the block without having bad-faith fascists getting you banned on Twitter, but you can get a tattoo with Gritty throwing Trump in the penalty box (which contains a guillotine). You can put a laughing, manic, fist-waving Gritty on your protest signs and then use those signs (in self-defense!) to smash the neo-Nazis on the street and the Koch brothers at the ballot box. Like the Viking berserkers of old giving themselves over to the Mystic Bear Warrior before fearlessly going to battle, for all of those today fighting the Oppressor, the spirit of Gritty is there. [[{"fid":"6704711","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]] *** Thank you, as always, for reading. Hazlitt will return in January.
The Year in Thrift

As I moved into a house where I hope to stay forever, I spent a lot of time with things other people left behind. 

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. I spent four years working in retail for a fast-fashion chain that, at the time, employed a program colloquially known as “rip shifts,” processing items no longer in sellable condition. Sometimes unsellable meant returned purchases sodden with sweat and cigarette smoke. Sometimes it meant a decision passed on from management about a shipment of 89 mustard yellow polo shirts seven months out of season. Once or twice a week, an employee would spend six hours in the stock room with a pair of high-quality garden shears, shredding nylon puffer jackets and cheap sandals into unusable bits of material that couldn’t be fished out of a dumpster somewhere and, god forbid, given a second life. Depending on a lot of things—your mood that day, your relationship to this employer, your inclination towards human interaction—it was the best shift to take, so long as you didn’t think too hard about what was actually going on. After working a rip shift, I’d have muscle-memory dreams. Of the particular, putty-like give of pulling spandex apart. Of finding the right pocket to split the side seam of a pair of jeans in one smooth cut. Of nests of useless fibres growing taller, forever. Now, ten years later, once or twice a week, on my way home from work, I’ll stop at the thrift shop down the block from where I live. I pick a section—denim, knits, toddlers’ clothing—and run two fingers along the hangers’ shoulders while going up and down the aisles. I let texture direct my attention. The plastic pull of acrylic? Pass. Polyester? Any smells or stains will never leave; keep walking. The brush of cotton or wool is good. The tractionless slip of silk, better. Cupro is soft and heavy and indicative of contemporary technology: recycled strands of cotton blended with copper oxide and favoured by manufacturers and designers who value environmental economy, or at least the semblance of such. Since this is a second-hand purchase, I tell myself, I don’t have to worry about the distinction. If the colour suits and the size is right, I take it off the rack to think about whether or not to take it home. These days, the ritual doesn’t take long. Maybe ten minutes or so. Not too long ago, it used to take hours. I started thrifting in earnest last year for a few reasons. My second pregnancy permanently swelled my feet up by nearly a whole size, and no pair of shoes I owned still fit. I was on a parental leave salary, and on parental leave time. I told myself it was an ethical choice. Commercial garment production is notorious for its use and pollution of water, inefficient textile use and exploitative labour practices. Perhaps this could be one easy way to feel better about the consumption choices I make, I thought. This choice quickly ceased to be remotely about ethics or being economical. On my first trip to that neighbourhood thrift store, thirty seconds after walking past the shelves of mismatched tea cups and silverware and mounted Scarface posters, I spotted a white garment tag still hanging from the hip of a pair of pants, Missoni’s trademark boldface "M." A $700 pair of brand new unworn wool slacks just sitting on the rack, priced at $5.99. “What idiot would throw something like this away?” I thought, at once re-living that one Simpsons episode and finally, truly, turning into my father. I spent the next hour flipping through every hanger on that rack. I loved, it turned out, wandering among the purged possessions of others. I also loved bringing them home.  My family moved into our most recent, and hopefully permanent, home last Christmas. It was my sixth move in ten years. Nine, if you count a few three-month interstitials spent at my nonna-in-law’s home while we looked for places in a city with one of the most polarized affordability and vacancy rates in Canada. Our first stay at my nonna-in-law’s home in between apartments was in the year after her husband died. We spent those months helping her bag up his suits, ties and shoes and ensuring they were on the porch for various charity programs to pick up, programs that likely carted them to the same types of thrift stores I’ve spent the last year ambling about in.  That Christmas, we opened and giggled over every bottle of homemade grappa that nonno would distill and store in the basement, left forgotten for years. Most of it was undrinkable—bottles stuffed with deconstructed raspberries and raisins left to bloat into fuzzy, grey balloons—but she insisted everyone take some home. It was the beginning of an ongoing purge that has little to do with KonMari method ideas about minimalist purity. It feels more like a wind-down, one that instills a kind of gratitude and pre-emptive grief whenever I experience it. At one point, she pulled some clothes out of her closet, three plaid skirts she’d cut and sewn for herself shortly after moving to Canada in the 1960s, and gave one each to her two granddaughters and me. She worked most of her life as a tailor, and these skirts are expertly made. Every hem is perfectly even, every line of the fabric’s pattern book-matched at the seams. I’ve seen such garments while thrifting—handmade clothes, clearly meant for a particular person—and gravitate towards them now. Never to buy them; just to look. After we’d settled this most recent move, my father started leaving old belongings around our home without telling us. Baby clothes. A bicycle helmet. I know what he thinks he is doing. I want to believe it’s too early for it. I don’t yet have it in me to tell him to stop. 
The Year in Chores

This year, time flew marked by dishes, laundry, trash, repeat. Occasionally I was seized with the worry that I was not doing the correct things.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Entropy is often explained, simplistically, as a measure of disorder. It’s a rule of the universe: everything tends toward disorder. A party will not clean up after itself, because entropy. A broken glass won’t heal itself, because entropy. My friend Kate, a poet and physicist, says that simply by existing, we are fighting entropy. To be alive is to be ordered. What I’d wanted was for this to be a quiet year. I’d wanted to rebuild my life and the routines in it. The year before had been nuts, albeit in the good way: I’d gotten married. I’d had two books released within three months of each other, and gone on two book tours. I’d met innumerable new people and eaten alone in innumerable restaurants—not unhappily. It seemed a sustained reward for the previous year, during which I worked constantly, during which I debated about whether or not to leave a job that was making me miserable, despite the fact that I loved the work itself. What I wound up doing more of, this year, more than anything else, was chores. Even writing often felt like a chore—a small act that created order, temporarily, but seemingly amounted to nothing. I say seemingly, but maybe it’s actually—the jury is still out. The jury hasn’t even been summoned. Writing pieces of a thing that I didn’t have any great plans for, I felt less like an architect of some grand thing. I felt more like a custodian.  My plans had not exactly been the best laid. I had given myself responsibilities—probably too many: In December I signed a commercial real-estate lease for the arts-and-letters space I’d wanted to open; in January, we were off to the races. This brought new people and meaning to my life, and also chores. In June we adopted a kitten, which added love to our lives, and also chores. All year, my husband Eli was working in Los Angeles, back for visits to San Francisco roughly every other weekend. Suddenly the chores that we had divided, at home, became mostly mine. Nobody washed the dishes after I cooked. Cooking, which ordinarily I love, became difficult. One weekend, while Eli was home, I took a sausage out of the fridge, peeled the wrapper off, and started to eat it, the way I might have fed myself, alone. “Give me that,” he said, horrified. He pried the cold, naked sausage out of my hands, sliced it, put it on a plate, and microwaved it. He finished it with a decorative swirling of Sriracha. After I was done, he washed the dish. Was that so hard? It sort of was. Early in the year a librarian told me about Kanopy, the online streaming service connected to public libraries. They had The Great Courses, she said! This excited me. I proceeded to stream “The Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time,” taught by Sean Carroll, a CalTech professor. Time moves only in one direction, and disorder is always increasing. One can mix cream into coffee but one cannot easily unmix it. One can scramble an egg but not unscramble it. (Scientists apparently have figured out a very complicated way of un-boiling eggs.) Entropy, in our universe, had been lower in the past. Entropy is always increasing. There is no end to chores. Time flies like an arrow, and time flew marked by chores: dishes, laundry, trash, repeat. It seemed like it was always time to swap out the litter in the litter box, and litter is so goddamn heavy. The chores not only seemed interminable, they were; they are. The average person loses a third of an ounce of skin per week. The weight of a “car key,” according to Hughes Environmental. Our cat Bunny has a tortoiseshell coat, so it’s three colors of fur she sheds everywhere. Then there is my hair, that seems to be falling out at a rate that defies logic. And each of us losing car keys of skin every week, though I guess it’s probably less for cats, and Eli is here only part of the time.  Every week I’m having to contend with a car key and a half of my family’s skin, let’s say. This year I washed out the sponge-y filter in my vacuum for the first time! I’d never known this was a thing you should do until I Googled it. I washed it with soap and water and watched the water run out when I squeezed it, blackened. Once, tiredly, doing a load of laundry, I forgot the detergent. It seemed like every other week I was scooping molding hummus and salsa from out of their tubs, and rinsing the tubs, and putting them in the recycling bin. The mold was living its best life, and was I? Occasionally I was seized with the worry that I was not doing the correct things. In less charitable moments I thought: I’ve given myself reasons to feel useful, but what was I doing, really? The feeling sometimes crept in, insidious: I wasn’t building anything solid, or real, or permanent. I was writing pages and pages, and despite all this time spent, I still couldn’t understand where the book was going, or what the point of it was. I’d wash the dishes and take out the recycling, and a moment later there was another dish to be washed or more junk mail in the mail slot. From time to time I wondered, I still wonder, if it had been a mistake to arrange my life the way I had. In an alternate universe I moved to Los Angeles with my husband and I’ve been writing my masterpiece—my masterpiece I have an outline for—and my burden of chores is shared, and minimal. Yet I had the loveliest year, and it unfolded in quiet, impermanent, perfect moments: in good people gathered to talk and laugh together for an hour or two; in a little cat purring, its body draped over mine, while I read. These were things that happened, and vanished. Not without a trace—there are always traces. The trash would need taking out and there would be furniture to be put back in to place, and dishes to wash, and surfaces to wipe, and pants to go over with the lint roller. It’s occurring to me now that chores, as acts that momentarily bring order to our universes, are important human stuff. Or at least human stuff. Anyway, they’re not nothing. Last night, reading a poem by Ada Limon, I copied part of it down: “I took to my hands and knees. I was thinking about the novel / I was writing. The great heavy chest of live animals / I had been dragging around for years;/ what’s life?/ I made the house so clean (shine and shine and shine).”
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 Year Inside My Brain

I stood up and the top of my skull slammed hard into the ceiling. Weird, I thought, and then I stopped thinking at all.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. If there's one thing I know about recovering from a concussion, it's that nobody thinks they could possibly ever do it. I know this because it's what every single person has said to me every single time I’ve told them the big long list of stuff you're not supposed to do during your initial period of "brain rest,” which for most people lasts about a week, but can take months for those with more severe injuries. The goal of this period is essentially to get both the amount of sensory input going into your brain and the amount of interaction you have with yourself down to zero for as long as you possibly can. You are trying to divert one hundred percent of your brain’s energy back to the recovery process, which means you can't listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks. You can't read, or watch TV or look at your phone. You can't cook at all, or clean without taking many breaks. You can't really go out anywhere, because all sensory input makes your eyeballs feel like they’re inflating in their sockets. You can't really talk to anyone for very long, or about anything of consequence. You absolutely can't drink or smoke weed, and you shouldn’t take CBD oil or any kind of painkillers or naps if you can help it. You can eat right and drink a lot of water and wake up at the same time every morning and go for short walks until you feel dizzy and besides that, basically, your options are to sit on the couch and stare at the wall, or to sit on the couch and see if you’re somehow any better at meditating than you were the last time you tried it. (Surprise! You’re not.) Years ago, I had this friend—not super close, more of an acquaintance, really. We lived in Montreal at the same time, except that while I was drinking comically oversized bottles of 50 in the city's dumbest bars and writing poems about my complex emotional landscape, he was getting a degree in physics, and then a job at the school, and then one day on his way to work, into a horrific bike accident where he smashed his (helmeted!) head so hard on the pavement that the resulting brain injury lasted for literally years. I saw him when he was just emerging from the darkest part of his recovery—the black hole at the centre, the big rest—and when I asked him what he’d been doing since the accident, he just shrugged. Light jogs around the neighbourhood, petting a strip off the cat. I asked him whether he could at least catch up on his reading and he reeled off that long list of things he wasn’t allowed to do, and then I said the same thing that everyone says: Wow, I could never do that. Hubris! I didn’t get my concussion in a bike accident, though when my brand-new manager at my brand-new job told all my new coworkers I had, I did not correct him. I got my concussion in the basement of my house, on a hot day in late August, while trying to locate the origin of the cat pee smell that had been lingering down there for weeks. I was bending down to check behind a box full of copies of the poetry collection I’d published in the spring, thinking about how funny and sad it would be if the cat had pissed all over them, and then when I stood up the top of my skull slammed hard into the corner of the concrete bulkhead that jutted out from the low ceiling. I braced myself for pain, but felt something completely different instead: a powerful, shimmering nausea unlike anything I’d ever felt before, sweeping through my body in one intense wave from the top of my head right down into the arches of my feet. Like a natural disaster. I’m not sure how long I stood there, just letting the wave move through me in diminishing intervals like that, but I’m convinced that if you were watching me you could have seen my body cutting in and out like a bad signal. (Funnily enough, I had used this exact image often in that poetry collection, as a representation of an idea, and now it felt like it was actually happening to me. Hubris?) Weird, I thought, and then I stopped thinking at all. Another thing they tell you at the clinic is that anxiety and memory both burn brain-energy at about three times the rate of regular thought, stimulating the exact parts of the organ you are trying to keep still for recovery purposes, and as such you should really try to avoid them wherever you can. So, okay: just sit on the couch for twelve hours a day with no distractions and a brain injury and do your best not to feel anxious, because feeling anxious will make your brain injury worse. Also don’t remember anything. No problem, right? I could never do that is the only logical response to this, even though it doesn’t matter whether you think you can, because you have to. The only people who think they can do it are nuns and monks and yoga people and the brainwashed; people tapped into some mystical dimension that requires total, rigorous, daily, full-body commitment to reach.  Concussion makes your relationship with your own mind hyperliteral, then turns it inside out. A few days into my initial recovery, I noticed this spot on the back left quadrant of my skull, about the size of a toonie. Most of the time the spot tingled in an ambient, white-noise kind of way, but if I tried to do anything too challenging—like, say, reading the IKEA catalogue for longer than four minutes, or thinking for ten seconds about all the money that was literally draining out of my bank account minute by minute as I sat there not working or moving or thinking—the tingling would flare into a hot pins-and-needles sensation that increased in volume until it burned so bright I would be literally forced to stop thinking at all until it died down. When I described all of this to my doctor he just sat there nodding patiently, waiting for me to finish. That's blood rushing to the part of your brain you're trying to think with, he told me. Cool. You can use it as a guide, he said. If I felt a little tingling, I was doing something good for me, pushing myself just enough. Too much, and I knew to back off. Soon, this spot inside my skull became my only reliable metric for how much I should be thinking, whether I should stop. Recently, I’ve stopped being able to feel it; soon it will be entirely gone. I think I might miss it, though “miss” is also entirely the wrong word. A friend once told me about this video he was obsessed with—specifically, the part where you can see the inner workings of the MTA control centre. The antique 1930s control panel, all those ancient levers and switches and wires. I like the part where the guy emphasizes that the whole thing is completely safe, just very, very old. That control centre, it turns out, is an excellent thing to picture when you’re picturing the inside of your brain. Idiosyncratically constructed, at once impossibly strong and idiotically precarious. As long as I’ve been a depressed person, I have understood my depression primarily as an issue of crossed wires, chemical imbalance. My brain and my body are connected, and that’s why both of them feel better if I exercise and eat and sleep and drink water and take my pills at the same time every day. No big mystery. I say this all the time, and most of the time I believe it. Still, though, I've never been able to completely let go of the secret conviction that some part of my emotional life operates completely outside of my body, and therefore completely outside my control. My most intense episodes of depression or anxiety can feel so full-body that when I am in their grip, it’s impossible to conceive of them as a glitch in my own chemical processing. In these moments, my emotions feel like truths about the world outside my body that have worked their way into my nervous system. It feels not just inadequate but foolish to presume they begin and end inside my body. They are not petty or small. They are a natural disaster. But lately I’ve wondering whether there’s a third option: something bigger than my body that fits perfectly inside it. Like, okay: there’s this weird trick I can do with my memory. It’s been four months now since I hit my head in the basement, and though many of my symptoms have dissolved, I can still conjure those initial waves of strange, glittering nausea from the moment I hit my head in the first place. All I have to do is describe it—to myself or someone else—and suddenly, there they are, pulling all the way through me again, like nothing else I’ve ever felt before. I am one hundred percent certain that what I experience in these moments is not the memory of a feeling or the idea of it or a watered-down version cut with time and distance, but the actual exact same sensation I felt a whole four months ago, coming down through my body again. Is this a glitch in my brain or is it time travel? Does it matter? Doesn’t trauma sear itself into your circuitry, and is that maybe a kind of magic too? Since I discovered I could do this, conjure the past into the present, I’ve found myself testing it out every couple of days—at my day job, in conversations, on the streetcar, in my bed alone—just to see. It feels perverse and queasy and inexplicably satisfying. It’s not a metaphor for anything. You never know all the things that your body can do, even when you’re sure you’ve felt each one. There’s always something new for you to learn from the interior.
The Year in Dog

Days have become generally unmanageable, and for some people it helps a bit to have a dog around, which I encourage. 

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Maintaining a dog is mostly not that difficult. The worst part is the constant fear you’ll kill it, particularly in a way that lets everyone else know the death was your fault. The second-worst part is knowing that, even if you don’t kill it, it’s definitely going to die. And from then on you’ll carry around the weight of your beloved dead dog that you won’t be able to talk about as much as you want to, because it’s just a dog, not a human, and the humans you know will also be dying. Otherwise it’s really good. This year I had the pleasure of pep-talking a few friends into getting dogs of their own. Days have become generally unmanageable, and for some people it helps a bit to have a dog around, which I encourage. My friends’ concerns were mainly like this: Will I kill it? Will it be too expensive? Am I going to be able to deal with taking it outside to do its business multiple times per day for twelve whole years, or however long it lives? Will it ruin my social life? Will it hate me for not being good enough? It’s difficult, I know. It’s a big decision. I’ll tell you what the answers are, though, in case you’re also curious: Probably not; sort of; yes, but if you adopt an older one you’ll have it for fewer years than that; yes, but that’s a positive; and maybe. But mostly you’ll just love the dog and the rest is nothing.  This isn’t to say I think everyone should have a dog. Even though maintaining one is non-difficult, like I said, there are many non-difficult things that some people are just not equipped to manage. For example, I once dated (this is none of your business) a guy who thought dishwashers came with soap already inside of them. Like, a supply of soap that was distributed throughout each wash, already there, inside the dishwasher that came with his apartment. That guy should not have a dog. (He’s a doctor now.)  Anyway, this was my first full year as a dog owner. I adopted my dog, Peter, in May of last year from a Brooklyn rescue that saved him from a kill shelter in Georgia. In case you’re unfamiliar with my number one Pete-man, the tiny Peterita, I’ll tell you what to picture when you think of him: He’s a mix of several dogs, mainly black lab and chihuahua, and the mix lends him the appearance of some sort of very shiny puppy. He’s got wide-spread, noticeably large eyes, and a really intense pee stare when he needs to go out. His head is a bit too small for his body, which is not aided by the fact that he’s a little too fat. I don’t mean this to be rude. Truly it’s only just a tiny bit, and I think he’s very handsome, obviously—a young Leonardo DiCaprio type, if I had to cast him—but it just so happens that he deserves treats at a rate that slightly outpaces the amount of exercise city living allows. It’s neither of our faults, really, but we’re working on it. This year together cemented a rhythm with us—dogs sort of require the rhythm and train you to respond accordingly. Mornings are always the same. The alarm goes off and if it’s before 6:30 a.m., Peter will stay in bed a bit longer, literally groaning like a teenager when I hug him and tell him that I love him so much it makes me want to die, before I go off to do whatever morning chores there are to do. After 7 a.m. usually means I don’t want to get out of bed at all, which forces Peter to put his tiny little face right in mine, giving me his intense pee stare until I relent.   For whatever reason, he presses his body flat against the door to assist in my putting on his collar to go outside. It’s no more helpful than if he just stood still, not pressed against the door, but I appreciate the effort nontheless. He trots down the stairs, bow-legged and funny, and we head off to the nearby park. For the most part I dread meeting other dog owners on our walks—trying to be polite as dogs tug at your arms, neither of you exactly sure when to cut the conversation off and say, “okay [dog] let’s keep walking!”—but I had an exceptional meeting in January that has stuck with me, if you’d like to hear about it. Peter and I were stopped by an older man getting out of his truck, who asked if he could say hello. Yes, he could. He cupped Peter’s face in his hands explained that he loved dogs, and that his dogs had died. He wiped the boogers out of the corners of Peter’s eyes and said, “You spoil them, you know?” The man kept dog treats he got from the bank in the cup holders of his truck in case he had the opportunity to meet any new dogs, and he gave one to Peter. (Peter, sadly, doesn’t take well to treats when he’s nervous, which he tends to be. He took it gingerly in his mouth and placed it on the ground. I picked it up and said he’d be excited about it when we got home, but it still felt a little cruel and I feel bad that it happened the way it did.) Before parting ways he stopped me to ask what my dog’s name was. “Peter,” I said. He gasped. “—My name is Peter!”   After the walk comes his feeding and our various work day formations. If I sit in my chair, he’ll lie at my chair’s side. If I sit on the yoga mat, he’ll sit up directly beside me as if we are both using the computer. If I lie on the bed, which I must admit is what I usually do, he’ll lie with me, either under the covers, at my feet, or right by my side, with his head on my shoulder. Obviously I feel guilt about the boring day he must have while I’m looking at my stupid computer (and what must he think I’m doing? I hope he doesn’t know about Twitter) so I’ll usually sing him a lot of high-pitched songs about the body parts he has, to entertain him. (For example: “Are you my little puppy guy / Do you have little puppy eyes / Are you sweet / And are you small / And do you have a face?”) (For another: “Who is this little puppy guy / Why is he so sweet? / He is tiny and he is small / And he has got four feet!”) At night we sleep together in my bed, a disgusting habit that I would not alter for even a significant sum of money. (And I would love a significant sum of money.) Then I listen to him breathe until I fall asleep. The year was solidly this. Maintaining my dog, being with my dog, holding my dog’s face in my hands and telling him I love him while he tells me stop holding my face. The days slipped together, racing past in a blur of unspeakable horror, but there was at least always this. My number one Pete-man. The tiny Peterita.
The Year in Rebuilding

That’s the thing with emotional abuse. You stop trusting yourself, which makes it hard to be alone, so you stay and you listen to someone else’s version of your shared story.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. A male friend recently told me he'd just looked up the definition of gaslighting. “I'm still not sure I know what it means,” he said. “It's basically what Trump's doing to the whole world,” I said, and then I laughed. Not because it was funny. Because I couldn't imagine what it's like not to know.  Gaslighting was the tactic most commonly used by my ex-boyfriend, Ryan*, when we were together in 2017. It was part of a pattern of emotional abuse that made me believe I was as crazy as he insisted I was. He argued with every thought I spoke out loud. He discredited every feeling, including those he asked me to share. He told me he didn’t hold me against the wall by my throat that one night, when his eyes came down on me like an avalanche and I believed I deserved it. “Mate, you’ve lost the plot.” He said it all the time when I pointed out his behaviour. He had as many different ways of calling me crazy as he had reasons to do it. He’d say it with an edge of affection for his crazy girlfriend who wanted to run ultramarathons. He’d say it with a heavy dose of pity for his crazy girlfriend who didn’t want kids. He’d say it, drunk in the middle of the night, because his crazy girlfriend was crying again. If he voiced jealousy over someone smiling at me on the street, he blamed his outburst on my having given a flirty look. If we went to the gym together, and he was angry he’d spent $7 on admission rather than a beer, he’d say we wouldn’t be fighting if I hadn’t forced him to exercise. If I said I was frustrated by being constantly cast as the crazy girlfriend, the issue was never his treatment of me, it was my sensitivity. Reframing an incident was easier than taking responsibility for it, at least, for him. This is part of what makes it hard to identify gaslighting. It can be disguised as a different perspective. After we broke up, I spent 2018 re-learning how to trust myself—my thoughts, my feelings, things that happened right in front of me. If you’ve never been with someone who negates your experience of the world, it’s hard to imagine how it starts. It’s like a brainwashing you agree to. At first, I kept notes like life preservers around me, reading them behind the locked door of the bathroom when I felt reality washing away on his words. Eventually though, worried he’d find them, I shredded them. I deleted the whispered voice memos from my phone because they seemed like evidence he was right. They seemed like the sort of thing a crazy person would keep.   For a long time, I didn’t call it abuse. Living in the Yukon, where rates of violence against women are three times higher than the national average (and those rates are even higher for Indigenous women), if felt like there was always something worse happening. As a journalist, I was often covering it. My nose wasn't broken like the woman I interviewed about her domestic assault. Ryan hadn't threatened "'til death do us part" like the ex in the harassment trial I covered. Besides, I was a lippy feminist who talked back to catcallers and told her friends to ditch partners who were leeches, or alcoholics, or simply mean. I wasn't the kind of person who landed in an abusive relationship, let alone stayed in one for a year. Still, somehow, I did. * It was my first winter in Whitehorse. My long-term partner was still in Ontario, and we stayed together at first, eventually deciding on an open relationship, and then no relationship. I moved north to cover crime for a local newspaper while I wrote a novel about a family of outfitters that fractures when one member goes missing. I remember being overwhelmed by the number of charges of harassment and assault there were to cover—so many that a co-worker suggested I quit reporting on it altogether. “We can’t cover them all,” he said. “How do you decide which ones are bad enough?” I stopped trying to keep up and focussed my spare time on the novel, which is how I met Ryan. He was in Canada, working as a carpenter and a horse wrangler for an outfitter I was interviewing. He had hazel eyes and an Australian accent. He was gentle with horses and he smelled like hay and engine oil. We met at a wild game banquet. He told me, later, that when I'd walked up to him that night, wearing a dress printed with images of deer and foxes and black bears, he didn’t know whether to kiss me or shoot me. If you’d asked me, then, to describe him in a word, I would have used joyful. He'd pick me up after work and yank me across the bench seat of his truck so he could sing Elton John songs in my ear as he drove the Alaska Highway north to his cabin, where we built bonfires in the snow and looked for northern lights. Falling in love with him was like falling in love with a character I’d written, even as I was already involved with other, very non-fictional people. Ryan knew about the partner back in Ontario and had no reservations about continuing our relationship. We never discussed exclusivity. He reminded me often that his plans included long stretches leaving the Yukon to travel to Alaska, Alberta and Ontario before returning to Australia. I told him I was happy to enjoy each other as much as possible until that time came. I don’t know if we were so intense so early because, or in spite, of our built-in expiry date. That was the arrangement, when, months later, he found out that the same week we’d met, I’d been sleeping with a single dad from Vancouver—one I saw again after meeting Ryan, and one I intentionally didn’t mention. Ryan had a meltdown. He called me a cheater. He said we’d never been casual and, in fact, he’d been thinking about cancelling his travel plans, extending his visa, marrying me, and having kids (though I was clear I didn’t want the latter two with anyone). At first, I defended myself (can you technically cheat on someone if you aren’t actually a couple?), but my defense felt like weaselling out of responsibility. I didn’t want to dismiss his pain or perspective, so I agreed with him. I believed I was a cheater. I still believe that. The difference now is that I also believe that didn’t justify Ryan’s treatment of me, before or after he found out. * At first, it was the way romance is, halcyon and singular. Whitehorse was quiet and cold and dark. We ignored it, staying in bed until the winter sun set, then eating bacon in the silver afternoon light of my small, slanted cottage. We drove everywhere because, in minus 40, our breath froze our eyelashes to crystals if we walked. He talked about flying me home to meet his family in Australia where I could finally take off my parka and get a tan. Mornings, he rolled over and gave me a look like he was discovering galaxies in bed beside him. “Fuck, I love you.” He sounded shocked every day. “You know?” I did know. It’s why I didn’t mind that he was jealous. Instead, I learned to recognize the look he’d get when jealousy kicked in. The way his forehead fell like a shelf, shadowing his eyes. The way his cheek twitched.   "You know that guy?" he'd ask, pointing at a singer in a bar. "Did you fuck that guy? Why does he keep looking at you?" One night, someone I’d never seen before told Ryan to watch out for me. That I looked like trouble. Ryan spent the rest of the night trying to get me to admit I was sleeping with the stranger. We were thrown out of a bar after a man walked by us and said I should go home with him. Ryan grabbed him by the collar, pushed him through the dense crowd, and punched a bouncer in the process. After that, I told him a dozen different times that I wouldn’t be around him when he was drinking. "Amy," he always said. "The problem isn't that we're drinking. It's what we're drinking." His drunkenness, and the fights that followed, were my fault because I liked whisky. He was just trying to keep up. We’d be fine if we stuck to beer, or cocktails, or took "nights off." That’s how he characterized the evenings we stayed in to watch movies and split a bottle of wine. He wasn’t even 30. Already he had the thin spidery veins around his nose that you see in career alcoholics. * He found out about the single dad in the spring, while he was working a stint as a carpenter in Calgary. I flew there to apologize. He picked me up at the airport and told me he’d considered driving me into the flat, dark Alberta countryside and leaving me on the side of the highway.  "If I take you back," he said. "You can't break up with me. You can't cheat on me and then break up with me." I promised not to. * As the snow melted, his moods were like mountain weather. He loved me and called me regularly from his job in Calgary to remind me I was a piece of shit. I accepted it as part of the process of being forgiven. I agreed with him. I hated myself as much as he did. When Ryan came back at spring’s end, there were friends I avoided. He didn’t demand it. It was just easier that way. Anyone he knew had met the single dad triggered a terrible mood. Likewise, anyone from Vancouver, where the single dad lived, or anyone who acknowledged Vancouver even existed. Same with anyone who spoke freely and openly about sex—that reminded him I'd had it with people other than him—and with vegetarian meals. The single dad was vegetarian. Ryan’s outrage over a falafel could last days.     I bought new bedsheets because he didn't like the thought of the old ones. A new coffee mug because he wanted to know he was the only one who’d ever used it. He was corrective in explicit ways, discouraging me from taking a course in personal training because I’d “be terrible at it,” and implicit ways, by immediately changing the song every time I put music on. He shit-talked my education (he'd dropped out of high school) and the granting system for Canadian artists (until I got one for my novel—then he was furious when I wouldn’t use it to visit him in Australia after his visa expired). He made derogatory comments about every woman we knew and a sizeable number we didn’t. They were stupid, or sluts, or liars. He openly pitied me for not wanting kids (wasting my life, he called it), while at the same time pressuring me to have them. “I should just get you pregnant.” He said it often. Once, he tried, coming inside me and denying I'd told him not to. It was careless, but I didn’t believe it was intentional until, hours later, drunk at a bar, he got angry with me for taking Plan B. He held his visa extension over my head. When he was happy, he’d tell me he’d been talking to immigration officers about staying in Canada. When he was angry, he’d give me a look of disappointment and tell me he would be trying harder to make it happen if only I hadn’t been such a shit person. “I would have changed my whole life for you,” he’d say, and though I knew it wasn’t true (he wouldn’t even have changed his drinking plans for me), I said nothing. I felt I’d lost the right to dispute him on anything, including drinking, which he started some days at noon.  He brought friends home from the bar at 3 a.m. and berated me after I’d asked them, from bed, to keep their drunk cheering to a minimum. “You should have been a better host,” he said, drunk again, bringing it up two months later.     Sometimes when my dog howled at him, Ryan screamed back, like an animal, without words. “You can’t treat him that way,” I said. On the rare occasion I said that about myself, Ryan told me I was sensitive. Crazy. That I needed to look at things from his perspective, which felt like all I ever did. The closest he came to acknowledging any wrongdoing of his own was to tell me I’d made him the way he was. That my mistake was responsible for the choices he made. * Summer came. I wrote about a program (now defunct due to lack of funding) that tracks cases of violence and sexual assault against women in the north. Someone I interviewed told me about the time her ex broke her nose on the lawn in front of her kids. He was one in a long line of men to treat her that way, but the first she pressed charges against. The whole community turned against her. In the end, he was found guilty of unlawfully being in her home. Still, she said, the trial changed things. Some people seemed ashamed of the way they’d treated her. They told her they were proud of her. She felt stronger, she said, for having spoken about it. Ryan went to work at a hunting outfit and I followed, to work as a cook. I didn’t go to be with him, not entirely. When he’d asked me, months earlier, to take the job, I’d declined. Once he found out about the cheating, though, I felt I owed it to him to go. Moreover, it would be good research for the book I was writing. I’d also be able to quit the part-time job I’d been working as a communications analyst, which made me feel like a professional gaslighter myself. This was a way out. It was a bonus that Ryan might ease off me, knowing I was isolated in a cabin just south of the Arctic Circle, rather than in town, sleeping around. “I’m glad you’re out here so I’m not jealous of you and other guys,” he wrote in letters he sent back to camp when his hunters came in from the mountains. Sometimes he said he loved me. Sometimes he said he’d never forgive me. Always, he reminded me how crazy I was. How dramatic. How lucky to have him. * His visa expired that fall. We broke up. He told me I’d always be the best sex he’d ever had and I watched him get on a plane and wondered how that could be the one thing about me that was worth remembering. Still, we talked regularly. I was deeply depressed. He was annoyed by it. For months, he alternated between begging me to move to Australia and have his kids, and reminding me I was trash, and the reason he was going to be miserable, broken even, for the rest of his life. Eventually, I mentioned the night he held me to the wall. I thought he'd excuse it—tell me it wasn't as bad as I was making it out to be, or that it was the only way to calm me down, or that we both knew I liked rough sex and it was foreplay. Instead he erased it. He said, self-righteously, that he’d never touch a woman. Then he told me never to contact him again. The memory of that night is the most vivid I have of us. Still, his denial made me feel ashamed. It made me feel like a liar.   * I kissed him when he did it. We'd been drinking beer at a softball tournament all afternoon. When it ended at 9 p.m., the sun still high in the summer Yukon sky, we were laughing and holding hands. It seemed like a good opportunity to be drunk and happy instead of drunk and fighting so we went to the same bar we’d been thrown out of months earlier. At some point, he started getting the tiny twitch over his right lip that meant he was upset. In the street, he shoved me. Not hard enough that I fell down, but hard enough that I nearly did. Hard enough that, if it had been accidental, he would have apologized instead of glaring at me. At home, he reminded me it was my fault he treated me like shit. I said I knew and I asked if he was ever going to stop punishing me for it.       At some point, he crossed the room, lifted me up, pressed me against the wall and put a hand on my throat. I remember wondering if he was going to hit me and hoping so, because, if he did, I could break up with him. At the same time, I remember hoping it would cancel out my cheating so we could start over and everything could be as good as I knew it had the potential to be. He didn't hit me, though. Instead, I put my hands up to his face and I kissed him and I thought please make this normal. It didn’t, but he did let me go.   I don’t remember whether we fell asleep that night with our backs to each other, me crying, him blacked-out and snoring. That happened frequently. It’s just as likely, though, that was one of the nights we went to bed furled into each other like fiddleheads, apologizing until we fell asleep.  * He’d ask, if he was so bad, why did I stay? Maybe I’d say it was guilt. That I felt I owed it to him after cheating on him. Maybe I'd say nothing. Explanations got his back up. "I'm just a simple carpenter," he’d say, sarcastic, malicious, when he didn’t understand something. "I dropped out of high school, remember? I’m not the one with the master’s degree."  Or maybe I’d ask him to think about the night we were at the hunting outfit, when I messaged him over the satellite phone to tell him I’d witnessed our boss take his adult daughter out on the porch in the pouring rain, slap her, throw her against the wall, spit in her face, and call her a slut because she’d forgotten to send an extra saddle on a hunt.   I stood up to our boss on that. He told me to mind my own business. Said his daughter was difficult. “You don’t know what a liar she can be,” he said. “She’s manipulative. She’s crazy.” I remember him casually telling me it had never happened, and I remember the shrillness of my own voice over his. “It happened right in front of me!” Ryan believed me then. So did the daughter’s boyfriend, a guide, who quit when he heard about it. Everyone else—wranglers, guides, guests—ignored it. Eventually the daughter did too. Within a week, her dad was calling her honey and she was calling him daddy and they were a team again. As a team, they fired me.  * After Ryan’s visa expired and we broke up, he spent four months sailing the Atlantic with his rich father and living on a catamaran in the Caribbean. I spent that time hating myself. I fell apart, mentally and physically. My focus was so shot that, when I was writing, I had to copy and paste as few as four words to move them around the page because I couldn’t remember them well enough to re-write them in the proper order. I developed debilitating stomach pain. For two months, I was too nauseous to eat. I dropped weight. My hair fell out. My hairdresser was the only person I talked to about it, and then only in vague terms. “Lots of women stay in bad relationships here,” she said. “Especially in the winter.” I went to doctors who ran tests for everything from pregnancy to ulcers.   “Are you depressed?” one asked. “Do you know why that might be?” I saw therapists, but stopped after a few sessions with each. They were all too nice. It felt like they were making excuses for my behaviour when I wanted them to punish me. It wasn’t my idea, but I didn’t have a better one. That’s the thing with emotional abuse. You stop trusting yourself, which makes it hard to be alone, so you stay and you listen to someone else's version of your shared story. Then, when they’re gone, thinking your own thoughts is like being buried alive. It’s easier to keep thinking theirs.   * I remember being on the phone with Ryan one night. I’d just been evicted from my apartment, in a city with low vacancy, in the middle of winter. I was measured when I told him I was worried about being homeless in the Arctic. He told me I needed to relax. That I was unhinged without him there to temper my moods. That I was, as usual, overreacting. But I wasn’t, it occurred to me. Not only was I not overreacting, I was barely reacting. In fact, I was flat and mechanical most days, especially when talking to him. It hit me then that no matter whether I was calm or hysterical, laying blame or claiming it, crying or not, he’d say the same thing: Calm down. Relax. You’re crazy. Those three things, he’d repeated like a rosary, by rote, the whole time we’d been together. “You’re fucking gaslighting me,” I said, out loud, to myself. “What does that mean?” I tried to explain. He cut me off and called me crazy. I hung up. I wish I’d stopped answering the phone after that, but I didn’t. Calling it what it was only made me feel more insane. If I could identify it, why was I putting up with it? That month, it was because I didn’t have the energy to fight with him when I was also fighting with my landlords for one more month in my place before moving into the only available apartment I could afford. But in general, I had no energy for anything. That’s how I slid into a new relationship I didn’t leave though I wanted to. It was the opposite of what I’d had with Ryan in that it was devoid of physical or emotional contact, but similar in that it was with a self-admitted misogynist whose complete lack of regard or respect for me reiterated every day how worthless I was. * What’s the point of writing this? Of putting it someplace it can be dismissed just as I've come to trust it? At points, writing it made me doubt whether it was even that bad, though I know those aren’t my thoughts, they’re Ryan’s. My thoughts are about the number of days and weeks and months I hated myself so much, not just for cheating, but for everything else in me he criticized, that it was unbearable to wake up every day and still be me. It’s worth saying something about what caused that. Reading other writers’ accounts of similar events is what helped me get through it, and it means something to be able to put it someplace it can stand and not be shouted down. I don’t have any delusions that it would convince Ryan, or anyone like him, that this all happened. Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe he’d read it and reflect and reckon with himself. He’s done it before. One night in bed, he told me he thought he’d sexually assaulted a former girlfriend. She’d cheated. He’d taken her back. During sex, he’d suggested something she said no to. He did it anyway, telling her it was her punishment.  “Did I?” he asked me with genuine concern. “Assault her?” “Yep,” I stared at the ceiling. “You did.” I don't know whether he ever apologized to her. I doubt it, same as I doubt he'll ever apologize to me. It took years for him to admit what he did to her. Maybe in a decade, some other woman will hear how he treated me. Maybe she'll have the good sense to kick him out of bed before she has to spend a year re-building her sense of self. If not, I hope she has people around her who believe her. Because I only started to trust myself again when I told a handful of friends and they didn’t question me. They didn’t correct me, or suggest that I look at it from his perspective, or tell me it was my fault, or remind me that other people had it worse. They acknowledged the situation was fucked up ("keep kicking losers to the curb,” my hairdresser said. “It’s great for your hair”) and they believed me until, eventually, I did too.
The Year in How Things Seem

I thought giving generously would mean, when I needed it, I’d receive help without asking. I am learning that life is not a mind reader. 

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Things are not what they seem is a common leitmotif of film; the eeriness of a suburban family against the backdrop of pristine Americanism. In Blue Velvet, a young, cherub-faced Kyle MacLachlan finds a severed human ear in the gladed green grass. In American Beauty, an idyllic family life thinly veils a marriage falling apart, betrayal, greed and Lolita-esque seduction. In Ordinary People, a family in mourning tries to remain stoic in the face of sadness. The darkness of mundanity is just beneath the quaint surface, stewing, bubbling, wanting and waiting to erupt. I’ve always related to the facade of togetherness. When I was younger, I was good at telling stories. Generally, I told them to create a familial fantasy, some strange fiction that I had concocted about the very normal, and very loving, life that I led. I lied gratuitously about my mother, who worked as an artist and as a part-time daycare worker; about my father, a lecturer (later a professor), because I wanted to make believe that we had money and grandeur. I wanted to make believe that my mother wasn’t crazy, and that she loved me—and that the bruises on my arms, the cuts on my back, weren’t from her, that I was a silly clumsy kid who walked into chairs and walls, a kid who played on trees too often, the wounding branches and leaves macerating my fragile exterior.  Messy little thing that I was, it was easy to believe. After a while even I began to believe that narrative, too. Believing that I was, in fact, worthless—too worthless to look after myself, thinking that’s why my mother didn’t, either. I convinced myself that I was undeserving of the love I saw other children bask in. There was always a constant, heady part of me that wanted to self-immolate, thinking that the answer to my prayers was death; I was suicidal at ten. Outwardly, though, I seemed confident, alive like a current, seeking approval from friends, teachers, acquaintances, needing to be absolved of my sins. Friendly, and hungry, wildly—I’ve always been well liked. *  My father very slyly sent me an article a few years back that detailed how millennials (and, strangely, genXers as well) are more historically depressed because of—get this—Facebook. Zuckerberg, creating everlasting divides. The piece detailed a rise in our collective frustration that lives were being led without us that looked so much better than our own. The stories we tell of ourselves are rooted in some hopeful imagination about what we wish we had, or what we think we deserve.  How many times have I looked towards a friend, and been happy for all their accomplishments, only to feel utterly terrible about myself shortly after? Jealousy, I’ve been told, is a good fuel—but what happens when it becomes toxic, like a sugar plum rotting in the sun, turned sour? What happens when you can’t alchemize it, and it, instead, becomes weaponized against you?  I’m rarely jealous, but often sad. Sad at my feelings of invisibility (feelings I understand are ridiculous), sad that I feel like my career has been slow to build—I’m 28, and have been freelancing patiently, regularly, for eight years, and yet my career as a writer sometimes feels like it’s somewhat plateaued. Sometimes, I feel bitter.  Yet, there are moments, cherished moments, of visibility that feel like a reminder that I’m on the right path. There have been moments of resoluteness, where things have felt like they’re making sense. In these moments, the gaps feel less all-encompassing. Writing is generally how I feel sedated, but in this past just-over-a-year, there have been moments where it felt purposeful. Social media has a way of validating things that don’t necessarily need to be validated. Like a singular, pithy line, or a glorious magic-hour selfie. Such things, up until now, were done in relative obscurity, with a scrawl in one’s journal, or on a manual Canon SLR, and then forgotten. These moments of recognition made me challenge how we measure success, in relation to how we measure self-worth. * In January of last year, a few days after my birthday, I found my mother in her room, slumped at the edge of her bed, immobile from a suicide attempt. She was crumpled like a non-human, and when I saw her, something kicked in. I wasn’t her daughter, I was her caretaker. I have always been my mother’s that, I just never wanted the job. For days, I nursed her, and for nights on end she would come to my door, screaming, knocking, at 2 a.m., at 3 a.m., needing the solace of someone who she hopes loves her. I would have to pull her out of her anxiety, her depression, massage her swollen feet, whisper her prayers, and remind her that she would be alright. I had done this my whole life. It’s wild how in those moments time is endless, circular. It was like a replay of every single time I’ve come to her aid, a cycle of violence, continued. A few days after her attempt, I got an email from the publisher I was working with on my first book to find out that they were going under. A week later, the Muslim ban happened, just as I was planning to move back to the United States to start a new, fruitful life. As all of this was going on, I was interviewed by Vogue about visibility and style. I shared it on social media, and friends congratulated me. It felt strange to encourage a certain perspective of my togetherness, of my “success,” at this moment. I didn’t know how to say that things are never as they seem. The alternative, though, sounded like a petty defense, so, for the most part, I stayed quiet, not knowing how to describe the fact that in moments of life and death, career highlights (big or small) are strangely arbitrary. On social media, how do you describe your unhappiness—the devastating reality of depression, your mother’s illness, usurping you like a black cloud? How do you detail sadness, without seeming maniacal, or obsessed with pain? * The thing is, some people have a natural shield, a presence of togetherness; a semblance of strength. Some people can be ruptured and still maintain a composure that borders on sociopathic. Some people don’t know how to turn to a friend, a lover, and say: I’m tired, please help me; or: I’m exhausted, let me rest.   I am one of these odd, incongruent humans who doesn’t know how to ask any old soul for help. I thought giving a lot, with kindness, would mean, when it was my turn, like karma, I would receive it without asking. I am learning, though, rather indelicately, that life isn’t a mind-reader. Women are not taught to seek help, at least we are not conditioned to it. I was always preened for a man, for birthing, or wifedom, but never for myself; my needs. Even to myself, what I want is oh so very secondary. It becomes such a naturalized waltz of picking up laundry, and cooking meals, and hurling myself towards caring for another human with such sedated eagerness, openness. Brutalizing my own comfort, I will always  genuflect at the altar of somebody else. Conveying not a glimpse of shattering pain, or interior misery and sadness. Instead friends closest to me have always been surprised that I might suffer from depression, saying, “But, you always look so happy.” * I’ve recently become friends with a young poet that I deeply admire. Their career is one of those rare gems of overwhelming accomplishment—a New York Times Best Seller in their early twenties, millions of copies of their book sold worldwide. Before knowing them it would have been easy to create a narrative of their quiet luck. Oh, how nice it must be to be known! To be read! To be that idolized! Talking to them, however, has been deeply humbling. I’ve found out the opposite, learning all the ways in which they have been attacked online and how they’ve both surreptitiously, and publically, been hurt by people close to them, how they’ve lost friends. It made me realize how often we put people on pedestals of invincibility. How it’s so easy to misjudge and create interpretations of somebody’s life, just because of the supposed “virtue” of fame. It also showed me how deeply divided we are, and how we’re unwilling to accept others’ successes, because so often it feels like an attack on us, as if their accomplishment is a reflection of our own demise. It’s scarcity mentality 101, and in fact the system (white supremacy) functions on this divide; the more time we’re focusing on hating each other, the less time we’re focusing on a revolution.  *  Life isn’t a mind reader, and neither are people. There’s an important lesson to be learnt as we move forward in this age of over-information, when everyone’s lives are available to us in formatted, clickable views. The old adage of never assuming anyone’s baggage continuously plays in my head, like a song, as I’m learning, in turn, how to intuit that sometimes asking for help is a revolutionary choice. I’m realizing that they’re linked. That they’re both about expecting more from humankind, and knowing what you deserve is a powerful, resonating thing. But, there’s also something to be considered about putting people on untouchable platforms, only to pull them off, a knife to the back. How do we function as a society, if we’re unwilling to appreciate people’s foibles, their tacky flaws, how do we evolve if there’s no place to fall? There’s a dark side of everyone, shadows unseen. Yet, despite it all, I’m learning that a good reminder is this: growing older is not jumping to conclusions about people. It is assuming less, and allowing people to surprise me, in the most earnest of ways. It’s about nurturing the idea of being nurtured, and understanding that it’s two-fold: to be and to nurture are a part of the same device. It’s about knowing everyone has baggage, and that most human things are never truly as they seem. My good friend Gleb explained to me once that in Eastern European Jewish tradition, bad things come in threes, only to make room for positive things to occur. He assured me that brighter days were coming. He told me I’d be okay.
The Year in Broth

My memories of these meals carried me, unwaveringly, from month to wretched month—attempting to re-conjure them gave me something to do at my most desperate.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Honestly, who knows how many hours I’ve spent watching broth on the stove. Watching it simmer. Watching it boil. Sprinkling chiles before I stirred the minced garlic, but only after I’d already spooned in some watered-down doenjang. Or, on other days, I’d whisk whole cans of coconut milk in the pot, entirely unperturbed, setting the base for a blistering heat. I’d sip a teaspoon and dash the rest towards the fridge. Or I’d ladle a thimble, and then a palmful, until curiosity evolved into gluttony, spilling down my chin, and the serving I was taste-testing entirely overwhelmed me, and the front of my hoodie was drenched. But I knew, no matter what, the resulting liquid would always add up to failure; I was doomed (I am doomed) to chase a proverbial, soup-y dragon. No matter the recipe. Forever and onwards. Which makes sense, probably, since, more often than not, I was only chasing the memory of a taste, or maybe the memory of the thought of taste, and also the color it’d left on my tongue. Throughout 2018, the present was brusque and gauche. The absolute fucking worst. And while I had neither the desire nor the resources to requisition the past for comfort, the remembrance of it—of how it tasted, specifically—was inescapable, so that’s what I yearned for: in the emergency room, at the bank, or just posted up in bed, scrolling through Tumblr on my phone. Because the mindset, I guess, went as follows: this year, I wanted comfort. And I find comfort in broth. In the bowls I grew up with, and the ones that have since blessed my stomach along the way. So, for months, this is what I tried recreating at the stove, with my timer on the counter and my back on the sofa and my ass on the wall, letting the blood rush to my head. It makes less sense to try deducing how much broth I drank (too much), or how much I cooked (threefold), than to tell you which hues I tried finessing into reality: one of the most elusive iterations came from this trip I took as a kid. I’d been visiting family in Jamaica. We stood around this pit in thoroughly wooded country. My cousins slurped from styrofoam cups of soup absentmindedly, having warned me that my stomach wouldn’t (couldn’t!) handle the heat. The lanky stranger ladling the broth was older than me, but not absurdly so, and when he asked if I wanted a Scotch bonnet in my bowl, I stuttered, since I knew that I shouldn’t—but also, fuck it. And I accepted one nonetheless. Maybe I thought he was cute. Maybe I wanted to impress him. The dude grinned, pouring me a few mouthfuls of the murky liquid, and I’d only taken half a sip before realizing there are some mistakes you can’t walk back from. I could’ve screamed. Could’ve popped. This was the most explosive thing I’ve ever tasted. The broth felt like the color orange. I spit it out immediately; the ladler stood unimpressed, but entirely unsurprised. That dalliance put me in bed for the day, and one day became three. Three days gelled into a week. But I’d spend the next decade pining for that same punch, dreaming about that shock in the back of my throat. In another iteration, years later, a guy I was dating and me hit the sack after an argument. I was unreasonably upset, pissed off over some now unrecoverable thing. When I woke up, hours later, I found my dude hunched over a whole chicken, beside onions and fish sauce and white pepper and ginger knobs. We both had a habit of eating at all hours. We cooked to cool off. And his soup simmered in a pot on his single space burner, bubbling a familiar croon under the space heater. So I was pissed as my guy stirred the liquid, and I was pissed as he poured some in a chipped blue bowl, but, after the first sip, I was no longer upset: I wasn’t anything. It was the clearest broth I’ve ever tasted. The absolute purest. When I asked him what it was, my guy called it Just Something My Grandmother Showed Me. The recipe was in her hands. Now, he was trying to figure it out, too. We ladled noodles in the broth, sipping from Tupperware on a busted futon, dipping shredded chicken in the bowl between us with our fingers. My memories of these meals carried me, unwaveringly, from month to wretched month. Attempting to re-conjure them gave me something to do at my most desperate. And broth has always intimidated me. Maybe it always will. The liquid grounds you. You’re gauging its temperature. You’re tasting it deeply, and now you’re taking a breath, and then you’re picking up the bowl, and you’re inhaling it, slowly, fully, and then you are gone. Sometimes, rarely, I found what I was looking for in my kitchen, after hours (days) of simmering. Usually, my chances were better out in the world. On a shotgun trip to New Orleans this summer—to figure out some paperwork for my car—I hit up the Mexican restaurant I always pass through on Carrolton. One of the waiters, a guy named Jesús, sat beside me, something he’d never done. As the guy next in line to inherit the place, he usually ate at the counter. But today, he savored a bowl of menudo, steaming by the spoonful, and the aroma had me holding my breath, biting my gums, toying with the chips and salsa. When Jesús finally asked what I wanted, after I’d watched him for what felt like eons (if not five long minutes), I told him the same thing he had, he could even just pass his bowl, and before he brought back my own serving of warmth, he grinned, and we shared that moment, the same taste on our tongues. Or when, a few months earlier, at another counter, this time in Chiyoda, a lady in a train station’s ramen shop watched me watch her eat some tsukemen. When my bowls finally came, at about half the size of hers, she actually flagged our server down to tell him something I couldn’t catch. It was another thirty seconds before I was given another batch, with twice as much broth. I beamed. I blushed. The broth was entirely delicious. And that’s when this lady—texting in one hand, tanking noodles in the other—waved her chopsticks at me, laughing, before turning back to her phone, main-lining her own bowl. When I stir my broth, I am trying to bring all of that back. Which means that I’m bringing none of it back. Which means that this will be a lifelong pursuit. How fucking impossible. How fucking perfect. A boundless banality. * But can you end a year on a positive note by saying you couldn’t accomplish a thing? That its ambition was too much for you? Entirely unattainable? And, even worse, that you knew that going in, from the very beginning, so this lack of accomplishment isn’t a bummer or even bittersweet—it just is? A few months back, my mother and I hit up this phở spot out in the suburbs, just outside of Houston. A bunch of groups huddled around us, with too many stories of their own to count: a black lady and a Latino dude that could’ve been on their very first date. Two young men chatting with the waiter in Vietnamese, with their hair dyed blonde, legs crossed and giggling. A mother with three children, who addressed all of them sharply, without looking up from her meal, but they immediately responded to everything she said, cheesing all the while, and there was warmth in her voice, and everyone in the restaurant could feel it. In our usual way of ordering out, my mother asked what I thought might be good. When I gave my recommendation, she ordered something else. I ordered the first thing. We shared. Both dishes were delicious. But when my mother finished with her bowl, she watched me eat another batch of noodles, and then a third, before she told me that the phở ga’s broth reminded her of another soup, cow foot in a broth that she used to cook back home, ladled beside rice and beans, and when I asked her what entwined them together , my mom started to tell me, after a pause, describing the holidays she’d cooked it on, and the mundane evenings too, with the pots crowded with greens, in the midst of friends and family, some since jailed or dead or relocated or just gone, until my mom’s telling waned into the silence that recollection can sometimes give you, because the thing about something that gives you comfort is that its absence can rip you from it, too. (And this was hardly a rare occurrence: once, during my crazy boi years, on a rare visit home, my mom made ackee and codfish alongside what were basically scallion pancakes, and after a minute or two of my absolute shock, my mother, entirely exasperated, unendingly gracious, told the story of the Chinese market in her childhood town, and the recipes her family lifted from the owners, including her now-fabled steamed bok choy, before that narration, too, drifted back into memory, and my mom reiterated that migration worked in mysterious ways, to stop being ridiculous, to look up from my books and towards the world they were actually talking about.) At the end of our meal, we hummed over our bowls. My mother looked at the meals of the group of women beside us. And she said, I see oxtail, pointing at the slab steaming over some rice. We’ll have to come and try that, said my mother. We’ll have to come back soon. But we still haven’t made it back. I still haven’t made the broth I’ve been searching for. Not an ounce of it. And I’ll probably never reach it, since what I’m chasing are memories, and memories are fleeting, so every pot with be full of failure—but there will always be another pot. That is, I guess, the tradeoff we make. Because here is a true thing: a good broth tastes like community. Whatever that looks like to you. When it tastes like that, it’s done. And, if home is a place and a taste and a time, what could be more difficult than conjuring it from your hands—sipping it incrementally, smashing time and space until you’ve gotten it just right. So here is how I’ll continue to chronicle the passage of time: one day, my mom and I will go back to that restaurant. Eventually, we’ll try the phở đuôi bò. That’s my internal clock. And, despite the forces working against that wish, I’ll do my best to stick around until we do, until there is another pot of broth to try, a broth that tastes like home.
The Year in the Meat Crime

Terrace House makes reality TV engrossing, ensuring a long-maligned medium and its most maligned genre are streaming their way into hearts around the world.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Uchi’s mad. First came the news that his roommates had eaten his pricey hidagyu beef. Then came a shocking discovery: the instigator of this sinister “Meat Crime” was his girlfriend Minori. We watch, our watering mouths agape, as a deliciously marbled cut of beef drives a wedge through their Tokyo group house. Relationships crumble, life trajectories nosedive and poor Uchi still can’t get a bite of that luscious ruby red steak.   [[{"fid":"6704606","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"7":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"7"}}]] For legions of Japanese followers, and a growing Western fanbase, the Meat Crime is a legendary event in the annals of Terrace House, a reality series now closing its third season on Netflix and fourth season overall. Even as this year’s latest edition introduced us to a charming new cast in the snowy resort town of Karuizawa, Uchi’s meltdown in the first Netflix season remained the show’s gateway drug, luring North American neophytes into the swelling ranks of its #TerraceHouse-repping obsessives. Thanks to an exceptionally tender, tear-spattered slab of beef, 2018 was the year I finally convinced friends and family to experience one of the most emotionally fulfilling shows on television—the year I finally convinced myself that reality TV could be more than a guilty pleasure. [[{"fid":"6704581","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] The premise is similar to shows like Jersey Shore and The Real World: six young people, ranging anywhere from their late teens to early thirties, live in a communal home and experience life lessons amid sexual intrigue. But Terrace House is subtler, and more cerebral, than its Western counterparts, unsullied by post-dated interviews, frenetic editing and other stylistic bludgeons. As the producers calmly observe their affable young cast and the stunningly appointed modernist home in which their pheromones mingle, the show blends the perky melodrama of a ‘90s rom-com with the intimate realism of a good documentary. It’s an irresistible combination, enhanced by one of the great spectacles in the Netflix canon: a panel of Japanese celebrities which cuts in three times an episode to break down the latest scenes. This Tokyo-based dream team is filled with colourful characters but dominated by three performers: Tokui, a genial comedian who revels in the on-screen romances; You, a wisecracking actress with the voice of a raspy baby; and Yamasato, a bespectacled comic who delights in mocking the Terrace House residents. Because the cast members change, making way for new residents at a time of their own choosing, the unvarying panelists and their Haute Normcore outfits become a familiar bedrock. They build the kind of sassy commentary we’d normally enjoy on Twitter into the structure of every episode. [[{"fid":"6704586","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]] Pair this narrative ingenuity with a visual aesthetic as crisp and elegant as the best works of Japanese cinema, and you have a show that is elevating reality television to new creative heights. Ply me with enough of the fruity Merlot that boozy cast member Seina guzzles on cold nights in Karuizawa, and I’ll even argue that Terrace House is the realization of a prophecy from 1973—the year the anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote an article for TV Guide on American Family, the PBS series widely considered the progenitor of reality television. Praising the show for its innovative union of TV and documentary film, Mead declared the emerging format “a new kind of art form,” a development “as important for our time as were the invention of drama and the novel.” [[{"fid":"6704591","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"4"}}]]  For much of the past forty-five years, this seemed like a laughable assertion; reality TV has become a bastion of low culture—“the television of television,” as The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh quipped in a 2011 essay. But Mead looked increasingly prescient this year. David Chang’s Ugly Delicious, Amy Poehler’s Making It and the new season of Queer Eye upgraded the genre’s timeworn formulas with rich production values and expertly plotted storylines. “Docu-series” like Liz Garbus’s The Fourth Estate and Steve James’ America to Me offered gripping, densely layered portraits of American institutions. And then there was Terrace House, looming above them all, a rising sun in a newly fertile field. After another year with Tokui, You, Yamasato and the house members, reality TV seems every bit as engrossing as my favourite HBO dramas, every bit as ambitious as the theatrical docs that received such high praise this summer, with every kitchen clash and domestic love triangle, every spirited yelp of “kawaii!”11Terrace House’s unofficial motto: the Japanese word for “cute.” As a “Cuteness Studies” scholar at Tokyo’s Gakugei University explained in a recent CNN article, “[kawaii] communicates the unabashed joy found in the undemanding presence of innocent, harmless, adorable things.” *  When Netflix launched Terrace House in the fall of 2015, the show coincided with a disturbing spectacle: the rising popularity of the former host of The Apprentice. Three years and countless traumas later, the “Reality TV Presidency” is one of the hottest buzz phrases in politics, summoned by New York Times reporters, cable news pundits and high-level government officials as they struggle to make sense of his dysfunctional White House. In this climate, Terrace House flips the script, inverting the traditional dynamic between reality TV and escapism. Instead of offering a voyeuristic window onto dumpster fire behaviour, the show serves as a blissful respite from a news cycle in which that behaviour is everywhere. Some viewers compare the show to watching ASMR videos. I always think about hygge, that Danish concept of cozy well-being beloved to readers of Kinfolk. Whether we’re in the cedar-paneled corridors of the house in Karuizawa or the homey confines of the panel’s studio, Terrace House feels like a safe space. [[{"fid":"6704646","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"10":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"10"}}]] That’s because it’s a place where kindness reigns and earnest emotion is cherished. Cast member Taishi strides into Terrace House: Aloha State, the show’s season in Hawaii, with the goal of finding “a love worth dying for.” Seina arrives in Karuizawa determined to “find [her] last love.” The incredibly formal courting rituals feel dated in the age of Tinder but it’s hard not to succumb to these gentle heartthrobs and the delight the panelists take in them. When was the last time you watched reality TV and felt as Tokui did after this season’s ice-skating date between Shion, a down-to-earth model, and Tsubasa, his hockey-playing crush: “It cleansed my soul”?  [[{"fid":"6704636","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"8":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"8"}}]] On dark nights, clouded by Trumpian gloom, Terrace House can almost seem utopian, a hope-restoring lifeline to a world of communal goodwill. It’s not a show without conflict and beef—literally, in the case of the Meat Crime—but there’s something deeply reassuring about watching best buddies set common goals and frenemies talk out their differences. “It’s really great we can inspire each other,” an R&B singer named Shohei gushed on a recent episode, proudly informing his housemates that his band was topping the charts. As the cast members cheered in the Japanese dusk, it was hard not to agree. In a year spent lurching from headline to headline, struggling to channel my rage, the show’s celebration of friendship and love was a joy and an escape.  *  The cast of Terrace House started 2018 with a venerable Japanese tradition: the late-night slurping of noodles, meant to signify long life at the dawn of a new year. The shots of glistening soba were verses in a thrilling new language: the lip-smacking esperanto of global reality TV. Japan’s edible rituals have always been part of the show’s cross-cultural appeal but they’ve never received more loving attention than they have in Karuizawa. The sniffing of an onion was an early season sight gag; a bowl of purple curry spawned a multi-episode meme. When an aspiring chef named Yuudai underseasoned a soup, and made the hunt for mediocre bagels the centrepiece of a date, the hapless nineteen-year-old was cooked. He had insulted the twin pillars of the Terrace House community: the relentless pursuit of personal improvement, and the bonding of friends and lovers through cooking, eating and drinking. The dinnertime meals improved after Yuudai departed the show, but his early exit dashed our hopes for a sequel to the Meat Crime. [[{"fid":"6704596","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"5":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"5"}}]] Three years after it first aired on Netflix, that burst of domestic mayhem still has the power to shock; it’s one of the few moments in the Terrace House saga where the communal backbone wobbles. But it doesn’t break—not even close. With the help of Minori’s sister and a well-timed batch of Valentine’s cookies, Uchi and Minori patch things up and leave the show a couple. Like virtually every resident that has passed through the halls of Terrace House—even the feckless Yuudai—they are sent off with a proper meal.   [[{"fid":"6704601","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"6":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"6"}}]] If their Instagram accounts are any indication, the show’s former cast members still do this from time to time, meeting in Tokyo bars for food, beer and friendship. With the obvious caveat that these are reality performers, skillfully crafting their personal brands, they continue to project the authentic sense that life on Terrace House was nourishing; that for them as much as us at home, it was more than empty calories. That’s not how most of us perceive reality television. That’s not how I perceived it before I watched this show. I saw the genre much as forty London-area women did in a 2008 study by British media scholars: when asked to describe their feelings while watching shows like Big Brother and Extreme Makeover, the most prominent phrase in their transcripts was “sad.” They used the word in its melancholic sense but also in the judgmental way we’ve been hearing it under Trump. The people on screen seemed pathetic to them: sad with an exclamation point. As Terrace House wraps up this winter, I’m shedding that judgment and cynicism. I’m embracing the sort of buoyant, earnest sentiment you see on New Age social media. #TerraceHouse makes me feel #gratitude. The #MeatCrime makes me feel #blessed. When the last cast members leave the throbbing quiet of the house in Karuizawa, I will feel as Tsubasa did during one of this season’s hankie-ravaging farewells: “I’m so glad to have met you all.”  [[{"fid":"6704641","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"9":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"9"}}]]
The Year in White Motherhood

Should we not be talking more openly about the desperate need for black and brown mothers to be included in the conversation about what motherhood looks like in 2018?

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. I always imagined I would have children, but less as a deeply ingrained maternal desire and more as part of a childhood fantasy about how I would escape myself. While the outline of my childhood was being sketched by the alienation of immigration and the dysfunction of divorce, I began to idolize the white families I saw on television. Their lives stood in such stark contrast to my own, it was hard not to be at first agonized and then mesmerized by their wholesome routines, their double incomes and their simple lives untouched by racism, poverty, violence and instability. I became especially envious and enamoured of the mothers, women who were unfazed and unrattled by the cruelty of life. Like Maggie Seaver, whose easy laugh was never betrayed by the sinking sobriety of unpaid bills, or Angela Bower, whose conversations about sex or dating were free from the stifling shadow of cultural shame. They were women whose freedom was always underscored by the lightness of their presence and the precision with which their domestic problems resolved themselves in a half hour. And most importantly, they were so completely different from my own mother, whose heaviness could fill a room. Who struggled to make marriage and motherhood work, worlds away from her own mother and anything that resembled familiarity or stability. As immigrants, we seemed to live just out of frame. There was nobody on TV who looked like me and definitely nobody on TV who looked like my mother. Instead of glistening white Nancy Meyers kitchens that served as the familial centerpiece of large detached homes, our cramped kitchens tended to be situated in a funny corner in the kind of purpose-built apartments that are manufactured in bulk. There were no bake sales or PTA meetings or heart-to-hearts set to treacly elevator music and resolved with a hug. My childhood was loud and chaotic and messy. It seemed like the only way out of my problems was through a middle-class family of my own, one that at least mimicked the class and race of the ones I’d been escaping with on television.   Now, two decades later, I am a mother myself, grasping for time and money, alienated by the oppressive barriers of my once escapist fantasy. And asking why the lens of modern motherhood is still so pointedly white-washed. When maternal outcomes for women of colour are three times more dire than for white women, should we not be talking more openly about the desperate need for black and brown mothers to be centred in the conversation about what motherhood looks like in 2018?  Even as we redefine representation, even as social media has democratized who gets to be seen and heard, why do none of the mothers on TV look like me? Why are the popular Facebook groups and Instagram accounts like Milky Mommas, CupofJo, Dooce or MommyShorts—modern outlets for connection between millennial mothers—still overwhelmingly run by and representing middle-class white women? Where the matriarchs of outdated television shows once represented the ideals of suburban motherhood, these new digital outlets embrace a neo-liberal “Lean In” mentality. A girlboss motherhood that prides itself on the type of natural, organic, stress-free, Pinterested parenting that can be easily and quantifiably commodified.   * In every conceivable way, your first pregnancy is an act of complete surrender to the unknown. Nearly every day brings an alien emotion or sensation that you simply have to give in to. And you shoulder those seemingly endless new feelings knowing it’s all leading up to this monumental moment that you only vaguely understand. Towards the end of my pregnancy the most pressing and urgent question I had for my obstetrician was, what does labour feel like? It’s an act so specific and yet so completely indescribable that the best way my own doctor could sum it up was by telling me, “When you’re in labour, trust me, you’ll know.” And, of course, she was right. When it hit, and hit is really the best way to describe that initial wave, it hit hard and fast. My water broke prematurely, so the first time we went into the hospital I described my contractions as manageable. I remember the intake nursing laughing at me and telling us to come back when I was in tears. Two hours later we returned and my face was damp not from crying, but from howling in agony. I felt completely feral and out of control. My body did not feel like my own. The waves of crushing pain erased time and space and even though I knew I was physically in the room I felt like I had fallen away from myself.  Yet those first few hours are seared in my memory as traumatic not because of the pain, but because I felt I had been robbed of my agency. Rather than focusing on bringing this baby into the world, I had been reminded that empathy is not something women of colour can take for granted and humanity is something we’re always fighting for. I had to plead and beg with my stoic white nurse, a blonde who echoed the glossy teens I envied in my TV-obsessed youth, while enduring that pain. As I bellowed for an epidural while hopelessly bouncing on a yoga ball with my husband rubbing the small of back so hard that a small friction burn was starting to form, she smugly coached me to “breathe through it.” In the end, a shift change was my salvation. Within 30 minutes of receiving a new nurse, a young black woman miraculously named Angel, I had my epidural and, finally, someone who I knew would be an advocate. Angel immediately centred my comfort and put me at ease and it felt so important and meaningful to me that my new nurse was a woman of colour, someone to whom the language of my pain was not foreign. It’s a small example of a larger problem of women’s self-advocacy in labour and delivery, starkly articulated by Serena Williams in an interview earlier this year with Vogue. In the piece, her traumatic post-natal experience. Shortly after giving birth to her daughter, the tennis player, who has a history of blood clots and was off her anticoagulants at the time, was left gasping for breath. She immediately felt something was wrong and raised the alarm about a potential pulmonary embolism. Williams knew exactly what medical tests she needed. She is one of the most famous athletes in the world, able to afford the best possible healthcare. But still, a nurse disregarded Williams’s initial outcry, delaying her access to the care she required. The close margins of her survival illustrate the betrayals of women still happening in the healthcare system in 2018. Most maternal deaths are preventable, and yet the rates of maternal death in the US continue to rise. Roughly 700 women die as a result of childbirth every year and the vast majority of those women are black. According to one report, blood clots are one of the leading causes of maternal death for black women. And yet here was Serena Williams, just narrowly avoiding becoming a deadly statistic. She was able to successfully advocate for her life, but why was it such a fight? Racial bias in the medical industry leaves women’s pain chronically undertreated, rendering us, in our most vulnerable moments, without a voice. * So where are our voices being heard? Social media, meant to be the great equalizer of stories, has been a boon for the commercialization of motherhood, creating an instantly recognizable mom brand. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry with conferences headlined by celebrities such as Kristen Bell, multi-day affairs that promise to show women how to connect their marketing to motherhood to maximize engagement and guarantee sponsors. Only a handful of the speakers at this year’s Mom 2.0 conference are women of colour.  “We're missing the voices of moms of colour in general, and we're missing an opportunity to change perceptions and stereotypes around moms of colour,” says Bee Quammie who, feeling a glaring lack of voices that reflected her own mothering experience as a black woman, started her own blog. She’s not alone: there are upwards of four million mommy blogs in North America. But despite this statistic, in an Onalytica ranking of the top 25 US mom blogs, only four are written by women of colour, and none by non-binary or trans parents. The story of motherhood is still being overwhelmingly told, and represented, by cisgender white women. On Facebook, mom groups promise a safer space, a welcoming and communal approach to child-rearing. But even here, it’s mostly middle-class white women who gather, wondering aloud how to offer their urban spawn a “diverse” experience, describing exposure to other cultures with the same lexicon you would use to place an Amazon order. These spaces aren’t structured to facilitate intersectional conversations that reflect the reality of women of colour. When conversations in these groups turn to subjects like race and class they inevitably become polarized, pushing women who have differing experiences out of the larger online community. I’ve seen questions about what to pay for childcare turn into class-based lectures that shame and silence women who don’t fit the middle-class mould. Conversations about diversity inevitably centre white women and portray people of colour as learning opportunities for their privileged children rather than as human beings. We become otherized even in spaces that attempt community and alleyship. The alternative is to seek out specific groups that speak to our experiences as women of colour, but that can lead to narrow and solipsistic conversations that don’t foster a true exchange. When I was lying awake night after night, breastfeeding my newborn into the twilight hours, I would aimlessly scroll through my Instagram’s explore feed to keep my shrinking brain occupied. Because, during my pregnancy, I had followed a bunch of pregnancy bloggers and accounts, my explore feed was almost exclusively baby and mom-to-be content. At first it was comforting, but then it was sharply alienating. These women didn’t reflect my reality, in their glossy kitchens, with perfectly prepped organic meals and designer baby clothes and immaculately maintained post-baby bodies. They were the Mom 2.0 version of the Maggie Seavers and the Cindy Walshes. I had managed to escape the poverty of my childhood, but I no longer wanted to escape myself or the reality of parenting offered up by own mother. Suddenly an immigrant again, having recently moved to the UK with my husband and baby, I find myself leaning on the lessons in motherhood I learned from my mom. I’ve embraced the ragged parts of my reality that have shaped the type of mother I’ve become. One who can summon resilience in the face of isolation and struggle, and patience in the midst of chaos. And like my own mother, one who manages to find light amongst the heaviness of everyday life.  Now those perfect TV and social media moms don’t seem so ideal, bound to the false narratives they’ve crafted for themselves. But I finally feel free.
The Year in Taxidermy

I’ve been trying to scrape something free and nothing’s budged. It’s possible I’ve scraped out all there is to give. What is the thing I was looking to salvage?

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. A good way to think about taxidermy is to imagine you’re God. Take the dead thing and resurrect it. Shape it in your own image. I grew up in an evangelical household. I know all about mortification of the flesh, the zombie special-feature of a body rising from the dead, the marvel of the reanimated holy corpse. What I needed to know was how to resuscitate a thing that I’d killed. Taxidermy provided some of those answers. There were processes and procedures. I wanted to perform miracles, scrape out everything wrong with my life. I wanted to gut myself. I knew I could not. Listen, it’s rough to need gentleness when all you’ve ever wanted to wield is a jackhammer. * This is the year I finished writing a book. It was about taxidermy, sure, but it was also about intimacy. Much like those mounted animals, people are forever trying to preserve their memories. Dorothy Allison says, “change, when it comes, cracks everything open,” and as usual, she’s right. Nobody ever wants change, but apparently it’s a necessary part of the human emotional process. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to resuscitate things that didn’t want to live. I know I can be impulsive. I want to bust things apart, rush, feel something spill wildly out of me like a burst dam. Taxidermy says: hey, slow it down. Chill. We’ve got a lifetime, buddy. * I’m talking with a woman on the dating app about taxidermy and she says “don’t be morbid.” I talk with another woman on the dating app about taxidermy and she says, “I have an antler I can show you” and I say “is that a pick-up line.” Here’s another woman on the dating app and we joke about “mounting,” then another woman on the dating app, another another another, here we are in the hotel room, here we are at the bar, here we are in the hotel room, the bar, the hotel. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but goddamn I’m gonna keep trying this same shit out, anyway. We’re preserving the idea that I’ll remain a solitary, stationary beast. I’m fortifying my meaty interior with felt and padding, wires jammed into my limbs so I’m posed perfectly for photos. Hey, we’ve got all night. We’ve got all night. * A friend brings me a gator skull as a gift. Drunk in the Taco Bell drive thru, I kiss it directly on its bony mouth, leaving behind a smear of lipstick that bloodies the teeth. I wanna feed it a Crunchwrap Supreme. I wanna take it on a moonlit date, that’s how much I love this ode to dead Florida. After my friend drives me home, I set the skull on a shelf. It’s a reminder that I’ve somehow managed to write a book, something just as purposefully constructed as taxidermy. Words stitched together. A solid spine. I’ve thought about taxidermy the way I’ve thought about my own body. A site of violence, a thing I’ve curated, tended, flesh that other people have touched and marveled at, an organism hollowed out, rubbed, constructed with purpose. Taxidermy is queering; it is an othering, and that is also me, a thing queered up and fucked up and positioned with intent. Writing a novel about taxidermy meant that I was thinking about dead things all day long. I researched topics that probably landed me on several government watch lists. Here are notes for the best way to dissolve flesh. Look, a website about different kinds of hunting knives. I’d like to know the best way to dislocate a jaw, thank you very much. How do tendons connect at the joint and what kind of upper body strength would it require to cut a throat? There are so many ways to dismember a body. It’s much harder to put everything back together again. * When I touch my pets, I’m palpating the shapes of their skulls beneath their fur. Feeling for their small, hardworking bones. Admiring their litheness. I think about what it would be like to taxidermy them, if they leave me—not if, I always have to remind myself of this—not if, but when. If you scrape out an animal, you’re removing the meat. The blood. The heart. Everything must go. You’re divesting the body of something essential, the living parts, which get chucked in the garbage. All the best stuff inevitably rots. * I’m not gonna lie, it worries me that I relate so fully to the taxidermied squirrel I bought off eBay for nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents, not including shipping and handling. The squirrel rides a bicycle—Barbie’s pink beach cruiser, specifically. The squirrel is holding a miniature beer and he’s got a face like mine, I think; one that a boy in high school once described as “space ratty.” I love this little monster, hell on two wheels, wearing a tank top and cut-off jean shorts. We’ve got a lot in common. We both look like we’re ready to bite someone. “If I’m writing about taxidermy, I should own some,” is what I told myself, but when I looked at that animal all I could think about were the ways I’ve stalled out my life because I can’t deal with emotional upheaval. Look here, see the dead things I’ve preserved: my failed marriage, my severed relationship with my family, Twitter memes that have been over for months. Friendships I’ve maimed because I don’t know how to say I want something more. Tell me how to resurrect the things I once loved, I think, because I can’t imagine loving anything else ever again. I set my squirrel on a shelf high enough the dogs can’t eat it. I look at that squirrel on the bike and admire it, but I also have a constant compulsion to dissect it. I wanna find the seam where he opens, root around inside the cavity, finally understand what I’ve been missing. A woman texts that she wants to know my unknowable parts, and I tell her that’s the thing about unknowable parts, they’re unknowable, and then I lose that number. It’s better to just be funny, I think. The great thing about a joke is that there are a million ways to tell one, but you’re always looking for the same result: a laugh. A joke is the most taxidermied thing there is. * I watch videos of do-it-yourself taxidermy, go on message boards and read about fleshing machines, buy ancient how-to breakthrough manuals I read floating drunk in the bathtub. Beer drips condensation down the page, licking a sad tear down a butchered deer’s caped face. There are so many different tools you can buy. Scrapers, tanners, acid baths. If you wanna open up a body, you’ve got a lot of options. Taxidermy is a memory. It doesn’t replace the thing it used to be. Part of the appeal of taxidermy is that it serves as a way to keep that one good moment with you, forever. * When someone says “tender,” I flinch. It means openness, a wounding, something that shocks your nerves raw. Other people hear that word and think of the softness of two palms pressing. Tender like an open mouth, waiting for a kiss. It’s not a flaying; it’s infinitely delicate. Gentleness scares me more than anything. It’s so easy to turn something tender into something tenderized. To make the hard thing soft means anyone can smash it to bits. Oh, it has been a year of being the taxidermist, but maybe it has also been the year of being taxidermied. I’ve been trying to scrape something free and nothing’s budged. It’s possible I’ve scraped out all there is to give. What is the thing I was looking to salvage? * Sitting outside my house with that taxidermied squirrel, I listened to the scree-scree of the cicada bombarding the oaks. I touched that squirrel’s whole body. The tail. The head with its liquid black eyes. It looked alive. It looked dead. It looked somewhere in the middle. It looked like it couldn’t decide what it wanted, either. I fully sympathized. In this year of taxidermy, friend, I looked inside and found hollowness, sure, but there was also room for growth. Places that could be filled. I am repurposing the animal. I will do it gently, carefully. I will do it with love.
Skin Worn Thin

Every time someone sees me as either white or black, I wonder, is passing an act of capitulation, or resistance? A rejection of identity, or of identification?

Every time I crossed the courtyard, walked past the well in the corner and slipped out of the baby blue gate nestled into the high brick wall that surrounded my Chadian host-family’s house, I instantly became nasara. It’s a Ngambay word that means both “foreigner” and “white-person” at the same time. A little pack of children would follow me down the red-dirt street, chanting “nah-sa-rah, nah-sa-rah” and laughing.    During my first weeks in Moundou I had protested once—in jest—to Sem, a balding evangelical pastor with a belly and a deep laugh, who was my NGO’s main contact in the town. “You know my Mom is black, right?” I said to him, from the passenger seat of his SUV. He chuckled, and simultaneously looked away from the dirt road as he accelerated his Toyota that sported a Christian fish sign and an American flag sticker on its bumper. “Yes, well,” he paused and pointed to my bare forearm, then looked me in the eyes, my blue eyes. “Just look at you, and then look at us!” He laughed again, then he turned his head back to the road and blared the car’s horn angrily at a motorcycle that was approaching the intersection from our left. He hit the accelerator again, forcing the moto, or clando, as they are called locally, to swerve aside as we blew past in a cloud of dust.   * My friend Frederic worked at the largest employer in Moundou, a textiles company named CotonTchad, where he shoveled coal into furnaces for six hours a day. The company ran a “club,” which consisted of a few cabanas clustered around a tennis court that hadn’t been played on in thirty years, and pool that lived a permanent dry season. It had pizza and free internet. Chadians with cars, and nasaras, went there. A few weeks after I had arrived in Moundou, Frederic took me to Club CotonTchad. The city hadn’t passed into dry season yet, and so the red-earth roads were jagged with ruts made by rainstorms and our bicycles jostled and bumped until we got to “Rond Point de la Femme” traffic circle, then turned onto a paved main street that lead to across the Logone River, and eventually to N’Djamena. As we neared the river, the look and feel of the city dripped away to a dozen cracking, once-cream colored concrete houses set back on lawns bordered by bushes in place of spike-topped front walls. This was the old area that in colonial times had been reserved for the French. There would have been a barricade at the beginning of the road, and Chadians would have been denied entry. Now, the houses belonged to CotonTchad, and where they finally ended, the club sat perched against the banks of the river. The green uniformed guard at Club CotonTchad’s gate did his own double take at me when I dismounted my bicycle and unclasped my helmet. He looked at me curiously, this nasara on a bicycle instead of in a car, but stepped aside and waved me in. I passed with a Parisian-lilted “bonjour,” and he said “bonjour” back with the Chadian r that rolls off the tongue. A few steps in, I realized that Frederic was no longer beside me, and turned around to see that he had been stopped by the same guard who had let me pass unchallenged just moments before. I went back. “It’s okay,” I told him, “Frederic’s just showing me around. We’re going to go in and probably grab a Coca-Cola.”  And so, Frederic and I walked into the heart of Club CotonTchad, where its post-imperial rust was framed by manicured grass—the kind with thick, sandpapery blades that can be coaxed out of a desiccated ground with only mildly exorbitant water use. We sat in plastic chairs at a round plastic table, flecked with our own sweat. It was pushing past thirty Celsius. I ordered the two most expensive Cokes in Moundou. Frederic poured his into a glass, I drank mine from the bottle. The Coke left a saccharine film in my mouth. Then we biked home in the rain, and even in the downpour I felt hot and dirty. On the way back an unknown stranger stopped us on the side of the road in the rain. He yelled something in Ngambay, and Frederic tried to calm him down. He looked at me then, in his stained and torn green shirt, gestured toward my helmet, and spoke to me in French. “A white man in Africa, he’s permitted everything,” he said with anger. “But what if I were to go to Europe, to France—what would happen then?” Biking away, in a country where I was unquestionably privileged and seen as white, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was passing, and that maybe, just maybe, this man was the only other one who knew. In Chad, I couldn't have it both ways, couldn't slip into the well-defined role of being white when it suited me, and then set myself apart from it when it did not. In Chad I was white. * Passing for white is a well anchored, though marginal, phenomenon in American racial history. There was never a uniform definition of who “counted” as black in the United States, alternating between one quarter ancestry (Virginia’s designation of “mulatto” in 1822), and the “one-drop rule” that spread throughout southern states during the Jim Crow era.  Even as late as 1982, Susie Guillory Phipps, who identified as white, but whose great-great-great-great-grandmother was black, brought a lawsuit against the state of Louisiana to overturn the law forcing her birth certificate to declare her to be black. The law—a 1970 update from a previous one whose standard was “a trace of Negro ancestry”—had established 1/32 as the new color line, and state genealogists had determined that Susie Phipps was 3/32 black. She lost her case. “It’s funny about passing,” the 1920s author Nella Larsen writes in one of the earliest novels to engage the phenomenon, “we disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it.” At the time when she was writing, between 2,500 and 30,000 African Americans with light enough skin and physical features that allowed them to “pass” unquestioned into white society often did.  Adrian Piper, ambiguously pigmented and a conceptual artist, writes in an essay, “Passing for White, Passing for Black,” that “In the African-American community, we do not ‘out’ people who are passing as white in the European American community,” perhaps in recognition of a decision born in some sort of pain.  Internalized racism, some might taunt. Pity, others might respond. The desire for “whiteness” shows up throughout our history as a persistent response to racism, or our notions of beauty, or a desire to belong, to be privy to the intimate moments of the leitkulture through the unacknowledged silence that acknowledges you as just that. And those moments can happen, they can buzz in and out of your life, leaving you flecked with power and its seductiveness one moment, and then a sense of disembodiment in the next. One day you can grab your coffee from the counter of a Parisian café, cringing as the barista asks where you’re from, and then replies—curiously, innocently, unaware of what her words mean in the context of a country that has in its history counted people as fractions—that you don’t look cent pourcent américain, and the next day your friend’s uncle can tell you that he’s actually been to Ohio once for business, to Cincinnati, where he stayed in a motel that was kind of scary, he explains, leaning in and dropping his voice low, because the whole place was—almost to a whisper now—filled with black people.  It can be tauntingly, cloyingly sweet to pass into the club in silence, unchallenged. * The word passing entered my lexicon in the early days of 1999, when I was eight years old. We had had five snow days in a row, which was almost unheard of. Every night we kept putting our pajamas on inside out for luck, and every night it kept raging snow and ice. With the days off, I had read Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin’s account of the way he chemically darkened his skin and then intentionally passed for black while traveling through the deep south in the 1950s. A sprawling, abandoned lot sat across the street from my house, next to a meatpacking plant that made the whole block smell like sausage on Wednesday afternoons. The neighborhood was a little mecca of multiculturalism in the middle of a ruined Midwestern steel town; that didn't mean it was tranquil. In a city split by its river between a predominantly white west side and a black east side, the neighborhood, which fell just west of the river, was seeing its own racial divisions revealed and exacerbated by a nascent onslaught of gentrification. Every block-club meeting became a battle royale for the soul of the neighborhood, roiling with the tensions between the (white) “social justice gentrifiers,” the (white) “urban warrior gentrifiers” who had followed them a decade later, and the minority residents who preceded both and were slowly being priced out of the few square miles of city they called home. Yet, the neighborhood had still only rounded the first base of gentrification. Though dotted with half-finished half-million dollar “townhomes,” it still hosted a shabby, peeling Catholic Worker house and community theater in the southern half, a big open-air food market to the east, a gay spa and gay nightclub around the corner from my street, the projects on the northern edge by the lake. Each part of the neighbourhood had its characters. There was Shorty, a sometimes—no, mostly—homeless handyman who once saved an elderly couple from a burning house and collected his Citizen of the Year award in paint-dripped cargo shorts. “Bubby” Hawk, a teenage guy who swore incessantly, had a trick-bike pimped out with neon lights and gold handlebars, and who set off bottle rockets next to the browned-out carcasses of the old cars in his house’s yard. The screech from the bottle rockets upset the retired judge and World War II veteran-turned-pacifist down the street because the sound took him back to Normandy, where he had lain shot in the back. A well-off, white investor, who would eventually develop the vacant lot into fortress-like townhomes, loved peeling down the street in his red, vintage Ferrari and would put up the neighborhood’s sole “Bush/Cheney” sign in front of his house. An evangelical pastor, who lived at the intersection of Bubby’s home and the lot, had painted in slightly off-level stenciled red letters, “The John 3:16 Building” on his large but aging house. The Catholic Workers, with a completely different interpretation of the “Red Letters,” protested the Cleveland Air Show (or more precisely, the military presence at it) every summer with signs, songs, and street theater. And our neighborhood mailman (also a Catholic deacon), hosted a legendary fall potluck party in his backyard that, without fail, degenerated into fairly serious drinking with a light touch of pot after midnight.   That winter, the lot was still empty, and a pickup kept plowing the gravel circle in the middle, which meant that the snowbanks it created kept getting higher and higher, reinforced every time it stormed ice. We tunneled them out and ringed the tunnels with snow-forts. Other kids decided they would knock the forts down, and kick the tunnels in. As they chased me into my house, the words they shouted stuck. “Get whitey!” they yelled. “Yeah, let’s jump this little white boy’s ass.” They had no idea that a few years later, when I became a pre-teen, my mother and I would come close to having the talk. “Look at me,” she would say one day, as if the thought had been squatting at the back of her mind, and she wanted to express it before it got lost. “When you walk out of a store, don’t keep your hands in your pocket. I saw you do that the other day. Things might be different when you’re out with your father, but you don’t want to give anyone any reason or excuse to accuse you of shoplifting.”  “You’re a young black man,” she added.  “Even if your friends end up fine, you’re the one who will end up in trouble.”  But in the winter of 1999, at not quite nine years old, the trouble on my mind was literally on the outside of a glass door, looking in. As the group of boys angrily pelted the house and cars with snow, I held up my middle finger at them, felt my heart beat, stared, and determined to myself that there was extraordinarily little that I had in common with them, or wanted to have in common with them. I knew that outside that door, I was physically powerless. As a product of an educated, leftist social circle, I knew—perversely—that my power, a fundamentally greater power, was structural. It lay in my ability to navigate with confidence and ease the codes, institutions, and expectations of polite, white, society. The choice between power and powerlessness seemed so clear. I wore successive pairs of neon yellow running shoes when I was young; my group of neighborhood friends (three white, one black) told me they were “pretty white.” I got good grades, and to my classmates, that too was “pretty white.” The syntax I used, the way I formed words between my tongue and teeth. Pretty white. My favorite song was “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters, I was building a desktop computer on the weekends, every year I reread practically the entire Tolkien canon. It was all pretty white pretty white pretty white. I wrote about the yellow shoes in my common app essay and got into Amherst College. Because I had checked off the box on the demographic page of the PSAT that moved me from National Merit Semifinalist to National Achievement Scholar, I got to cash my $2,500 check and didn’t have to do work-study. And I felt like an impostor, like no matter what I wore, it would always be a disguise. I had crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and grown up reading books like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I had watched Amistad and newsreels of firehoses pinning protesters against walls while police dogs snapped at their feet and officers bashed their heads in with billy clubs. I had gone to teach-ins about the Children’s March, summer social justice camps about race and class and urban poverty, learned about Ida B. Wells and stepped into sanctuaries that had welcomed Martin Luther King. I knew the lyrics to "Go Down Moses," and had celebrated Juneteenth.  And still, I thought, what right did my clear blue eyes, the ones that got me stopped in public by middle aged women, that brought compliments from security guards and pre-9/11 trips to the cockpit from flight attendants, what right did those eyes have to inhabit someone else’s struggle, someone else’s pain? It was only years later that I would learn about the myriad moments of discrimination my mother had hidden from me while I was growing up. Like the neighbors who had eventually stopped their children from playing with me when I was five. “Not the chocolate ones,” she had overheard the woman say to her daughter, Tabitha. Or how despite an extremely high score on my entrance exam to Saint Ignatius High School, I had been “overlooked” for the honor’s program until my mother had intervened with an admissions officer. The school, she told me just recently, had a history of doing that to minority students. * Across geography and time, human cultures have found common ground in their unease with things that are liminal—things that can’t easily be classed and thus neatly ordered. Mary Douglas writes about this in her 1966 anthropology classic, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, where she dissects cleanliness and uncleanliness, forbidden foods, and things that make us feel uneasy. These are things that straddle definitions, exist between two categories, like animals that cleaveth the hoof but cheweth not the cud. Philip Roth tells us why his main character in The Human Stain, Coleman Silk, decides to forsake his identity and pass for—become?—a white Jew. “All he’d ever wanted since earliest childhood was to be free: not black, not even white—just on his own and free.” But he can’t be just on his own and free, and so he decides that there is at least more freedom to be had by being white. Coleman Silk decides not to be liminal, not to be a walking, living taboo. Is passing an act of capitulation, or resistance? A rejection of identity, or of identification? The challenge and irony put before those who pass as white is that white is an unspoken norm. Successive waves of immigrants have arrived in the United States and acquired whiteness. The Irish needed not apply, but then they became white. Italians, ostracized and Catholic—they too became white.  There is history and heritage in being Scottish or Swedish, Hungarian or Polish, or any other European ethnicity traditionally associated with white skin. White, though—is it anything other than a stand-in for power? A definition for something that needs not be defined, but simply is? Whiteness is never the identified half of a mixed identity. As a girlfriend once observantly pointed out, I have never, ever, reflexively referred to myself as “half-white,” a linguistic construction that is itself active, rather than just is. To paraphrase Larsen, it’s funny about whiteness—in order to claim it, passers have to racialize it, define it, give it some sort of mass and shape. They have to “act white.” But is it even possible to pin down an ontological whiteness? * By April, Chad’s dry season, I had to lean my arm way down over the edge of the well, grasping the frayed ends of the rope with fingertips, in order to lower the leather sack down far enough to touch the surface of the water and slowly slip beneath. Dry season near the equator is a series of sun-forced strabismic glances. Months of cursing the sun and wiping your brow repeatedly, until you could swear that the skin there had been worn thin.   One day just after dry season had passed, after water had finally shot down from the sky with such force that it kicked sand up into the air and shook mangoes from trees, I was walking home from the market with two Chadian friends. We stepped to the side of the road to get out of the way of a motorcycle, whose driver sped by in a cloud of dust, his djelleba puffing out around him; a chimera, fat with wind. Because we had moved, we were close enough to two little girls sitting on the side of the road to hear them speak. I couldn’t understand their Ngambay, but they were giggling. One of my friends burst into a big, open-mouth laugh. “Those girls,” he told me. “One said, ‘Look, there goes the nasara’. And the other one said, ‘No, he’s not a nasara, he just looks like one. He’s really Chadian on the inside.’”