Archive | Essays

American Love Story

art: kerry james marshall

This is not a post about astrology or tarot or the moon. But it is about spiritual ritual—because rituals mean nothing if they are not ultimately for the higher and thus common good. Activism can be just as enlightening a ritual as meditating all day on a mountain. In fact, when the humanity of everyone is not honored equally in the country where you live, activism can be the most enlightened thing you do. And make no mistake: we live in a country where 20 percent of its denizens make 86 percent of the money and are barely taxed. Where it’s harder to vote than buy a gun. And where the people paid to protect the peace may very well kill you if you are black or brown, even if you’re a child, because racism is core to American policing.

I send love to anyone in pain today or any other day because of the inequities built upon this land by European settlers. I send love to everyone actively fighting for the first truly multiracial democracy to flourish under the American flag. Cornel West said it and it is true: Justice is what love looks like in public.

Painting at Audre’s: Part I

Once when I was 9, a mother and her two kids disappeared from our neighborhood. It wasn’t a kidnapping. It was just that for years they lived down the street from our house, then one day they were gone.

The husband was still there, but when my mom took my sister and I around to visit his wife and kids, he said they were out. His normally polished appearance was unruly—clothes rumpled, face unshaven—but he offered no further explanations and shut the door before my mother could ask any more questions. When we went back the next day, he didn’t answer the door, though his orange Volvo was parked in the driveway. Nor did he answer it the day after that.

For a full week my mom kept finding reasons to drop by. A cutting from her favorite fern, an invitation to take all the kids to the park, cookies she’d just baked, a mug that seemed up the wife’s alley. My mother liked to collect things for people, like a mother bird dragging treasures back to her chicks safe in their nest.

But no matter what time of day we stopped over, no one ever answered the door. The orange Volvo was always there, each day covered with more leaves, but the mother’s car never reappeared.

The real reason my mother kept looking for this woman is she was one of the few people in our neighborhood whom my mother liked. Having spent her young adulthood in downtown Boston, she’d never cottoned to the suburban town to which my parents moved after I was born. She never said it directly—my mother said almost nothing directly—but even as a kid I could tell she found the other mothers in our neighborhood grating or phony or both. She relaxed around this woman–told jokes, pulled faces, lingered over coffee.

I liked this woman too. Let’s call her Audre, because it’s close to her real name and she possessed the practical, large-hearted lyricism of Audre Lorde, whom she liked a lot.

Back home we spent a lot of time wondering where Audre might have gone. Was she sick, I wondered. Does she not like me anymore, wondered my mother. It was my father, surprisingly, who came up with the right answer.

Maybe she left her husband, he said. Continue Reading →

Just Deserts Are Best Eaten With Fangs

This is a story of just deserts and middle age and I am not necessarily endorsing the role I play.

Just now I ran into a guy who was a real thorn in my side pre-Pandemic. He lives next door in what I call Melrose Place, an apartment building mostly populated by young, Italian-born guys who work at the cafe on the first floor. The man in question is actually three weeks older than me, though before the Plague it wasn’t evident from his demeanor.

He had recently left his wife, also our age, because–and this is a direct quote–“she did not make him feel like a man.” This man’s wife made most of the money in their relationship from her excellent art direction and so, upon leaving her, he had been serving espressos next door along with all the other cute boys because, yes, I regret to inform you that this man was quite cute. Handsome, actually, in that mournful, big-nosed, big-pawed way of some Italian men. In fact, I confess that when this man first began to serve coffee next door I found him undeniably attractive. Given my parentage, it is not surprising that I confuse intense self-pity for intense soulfulness in a certain sort of good-looking person. Continue Reading →

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