Archive | Country Matters

This Alley Cat Thanks You

Once when I was 19, the summer after my first year of college, I made the mistake of going home again.

I’d been leaving home in one way or another since I was eleven–had been living with boyfriends off and on since I was 15–but at 18 had surprised everyone, most of all me, and got into a decent college and left the state.

What’s more, I went to a Quaker college in Pennsylvania, which meant I was surrounded by the kind of squares whose parents loved them and whose idea of fashion was Dockers and college logos. The music was Cat Stevens and Jimmy Buffett, the colors were grey and that green that has so much grey in it that it might as well go ahead and be grey. And I just about lost my mind.

I never really came around on that school socially–in my senior year, I was the butt of a class night joke in which they insulted my boyfriend’s taste in women–but that first year I hated the tyranny of their grey-greenness with such a punk-rock heat that they hated me with an equal fervor.

It was probably the least grey-green thing about them.

But I had been told by my grandmother that if I didn’t attend this particular school I’d be dead by 27. She told me six months after she died, which is how I knew she meant business. She hadn’t been that involved in my goings-ons while she was alive. Continue Reading →

The Fire Still Burns

Today is the 108th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The worst industrial disaster in NYC history, 146 garment workers—123 of them women—died in a Washington Square factory fire because doors and windows were locked to ensure workers didn’t take breaks or steal. The events of that day helped launch the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, now known as UNITE, which protects the rights and safety of textile workers and where I worked as an organizer. This picture was taken 25 years ago at the site of that disaster. I am the dark-haired butch in the left-hand corner, talking to NYC tweens who’d been inspired to support their mothers being mistreated in sweatshops. Oh, how I wish things were more improved today.

More Lipstick for the Wolf

Lately, I spend my Saturdays reading.

I have read five books by Ruth Reichl, wonderful stories of travel and food and champagne and love. I have read all three of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon books, which, as Natasha Lyonne avers, are better if grimmer than the Anne of Green Gable series: more honest, higher stakes. Also I have reread Eve Babitz’s Sex and Rage and Black Swans. And of course all of MFK Fisher.

Especially How to Cook a Wolf.

It does not escape me that all these books are by and about women writers who found love and literary success.

For the moment, both evade me. I say “for the moment” because I am relentlessly hopeful in my own way. Though my romances have conferred as much pain as pleasure, I still look forward to the next one.

And though I have yet to sell my book–yet to finish it, even–I see its cover before I go to sleep at night. Sometimes on someone else’s night table.

In the meantime I keep my scale very, very small. Frankly, I’m too broke to go out. I have no money to spend and though an affordable New York still lurks beneath the city’s Instagram ops and best-of lists, I find myself weary and wary when faced with the prospect of restaurants and bars. Friends invariably pick up the checks and it hurts to burden them. This is not how I like to live. This is not how I like to treat my people.

In my home I can take care of business. I rise early and write as long as my brain will let me, then go for a long walk, the neighborhood quiet in the mid-afternoon. I shop the grocery sales and cook slowly as the sun ripens in the horizon. I cook because it is cheaper than eating or ordering out but also because the rhythm of stirring, chopping, stirring–knife thumping, oil sizzling, sauce thickening– feels elegant and serene. The way I felt before the Legend smiled at me and I smiled back. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy