August 12, 2014
Full moon over Harlem from St. Nicholas Park a couple nights ago.
Fun fact: The full moon of August is traditionally named the Sturgeon Moon.
August 10, 2014
I have had a lot of reaction in the past few days to that New York Times Magazine article concerning “The Kids Who Beat Autism.” Here’s about all I have left.
The parents, the teachers, the therapists and researchers without a clue who are celebrating “recovery” because they have, in their heads, defined autism as a fixed set of permanent inabilities—
-Are not the people doing the work of passing, and are not going to be the ones to find out first-hand just how long it isn’t actually sustainable.
-Are not the people who get told we’re too articulate to be autistic but have to ration our hours of speech per day.
-Are not the developmentally disabled women who suffer a sexual abuse rate of over 90%, no thanks to the compliance training that teaches that allowing others to control our bodies is desirable behavior.
-Are not the kids pulling themselves through school without disability accommodations.
-Are not the kids getting their supports pulled out from under them when they lose a diagnosis.
-Are not the kids getting chided and belittled because their challenges and oddity are now seen as choices of defiance or misbehavior.
-Are not the people being lied to about who they are.
-Are not the people who are going to wake up one day 20 years from now with no idea who they are or how they got there.
-Are not the people who will spend a year and a half having a meltdown with no idea of what’s happening or why.
-Are not the kids being taught that accepting yourself as you really are and as you really work, would be the worst possible thing.
-Or that the “optimal outcome” for you is to spend the rest of your life pretending to be something you’re not in order to uphold the illusions of the people around you.
-Are not the people who are going to have to re-learn where they belong in space and time and how to live there.
-They will not be the people giving their kids a community and a support system years from now. They will not be the ones who know what to do when they start having breakdowns and burnouts.
They will not be the ones supporting their kids in learning self-acceptance when all their passing skills fail because they are actually incompatible with functioning in the long term.
They will not be the people there to pick up the pieces.
There is, indeed, hope for the kids featured in this article, for joy and authenticity. This article could’ve come with a spoiler alert; we know the end of this story. We know it many times over.
It’s just not that these kids live out their lives as non-autistic people.
July 23, 2014
When I was in college in Athens, GA, there was absolutely nothing as good, when you were sick or sad or cold, as a cup of the chicken and dumplings for $3.00 at Five Star Day Cafe. One of the drawbacks of having lived there is that when you’re hit with a craving for Athens food, there’s precious little you can do about it if you are anywhere else in the world. (Buttermilk feta dressing for French fries? Forget it.)
I spent several years pining for chicken and dumplings before it hit me that I could probably make them, and that as my roommate Emily #2 is a southerner, there were probably multiple recipes already in our apartment. I tried a few.
But no dumpling recipe approximated the Five Star Day dumplings, which, being the first and only dumplings I had ever had, represented the quintessential ideal of dumplings in my head. And they were doughy and filling…every dumpling from a recipe I tried turned out like some kind of fluffy bread on top of the soup, which to my mind was not the point at all.
I don’t make it back to Athens often, but at least, I thought, I could get a bowl on my next visit.
And then last spring, Five Star Day closed, not even a week before a planned visit to a friend, and on top of all kinds of layers of indignation and grief over the loss of that place, I despaired of ever not eating inferior dumplings.
Then this week I had a frozen chicken carcass I’d been meaning to turn into a summery chicken soup with mushrooms and green beans (I’d actually wanted asparagus, but asparagus is expensive this late in the summer). I was looking for a dumpling recipe I’d used before involving an egg, but couldn’t find it. (The recipe, not the egg.) The Better Homes and Gardens recipe I vaguely remembered as being inferior, but I had everything in it except for like six herbs that I never actually have on hand (my herb of choice is thyme, and I use it gratuitously, in everything).
I was in a fuck measuring mood so I wasn’t leveling off measuring cups or spoons. I was trying to get soup finished and eaten before my call time that night, so I wasn’t being careful at all.
So I was flabbergasted when I took a bite, and…that was the flavor of the Five Star Day dumplings.
To the best of my recollection, this is what I did:
-2/3 cup of flour, plus a little more, because fuck measuring.
-1 teaspoon baking powder, plus a little more, because fuck measuring.
-1/4 cup milk
-2 tablespoons cooking oil
-Large pinch of dried thyme (LARGE. I’m not kidding.)
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-Lots of pepper
I think part of the secret is in sinus-clearing, heart-warming quantities of pepper. The texture is still not the same, but now I have ideas about that, too. Anyone who’s had any further success at recreating Five Star Day-style chicken dumplings, hit me up.
Addendum: Hopefully obviously, but I can promise no equivalent results. It was an accident. I more or less did it again yesterday, but tried again this afternoon and the dumplings practically fell apart in the soup. Could be the heat? (Yes, I’m the kind of person who eats soup when it’s 90 degrees outside.) I made the mistake once of refrigerating dumpling dough and that was the biggest soup disaster I’ve ever caused… Anyway. I wish you luck.
July 6, 2014
Late frost killed my strawberry plants this spring, so I replaced them with cherry tomatoes, which I’d always wondered whether they’d do well in the space I have available. (I grew tomatoes when I was a kid, but never in a window box before.) They’ve been taking their sweet time ripening, but they may yet not become tiny fried green tomato bites, which I’d been starting to consider.
June 25, 2014
A coworker of mine leads nature walks to remote corners of the city once a month just to make sure that we all see something other than the inside of a dark theater once in a while. A couple of weekends ago, we went to Plum Beach in Brooklyn to see the horseshoe crabs come up on the high tide to mate and lay eggs.
It was chilly for mid-June. Rainclouds meant we didn’t get to see the full moon rising, sadly, but there are still some beautiful views of the Rockaways and Breezy Point.
Deceased horseshoe crab. One of the things we learned is that they tend to get flipped upside down on their backs in the tide. Because they have a segmented shell, unlike turtles, they have some ability to right themselves…but if they don’t succeed and morning comes, they get eaten by seagulls. So if you come across one upside down, you can help it out by using your foot to nudge it back right side up. I got to rescue 3 or 4 crabs on this night. They’re heavier than they look.
And cuter, once you get to know them.
Found one tagged by the Fish and Wildlife Service!
June 12, 2014
I don’t re-read books very often, except for the handful that I read more or less constantly, just a few pages at a time before bed, infinitely. The ones that I’ve re-read probably dozens of times apiece in the course of just opening them randomly to read three or four pages…while I have a midnight snack before bed, or wait for tea water to boil, or for my computer to finish processing a printing job. Aside from those, I can probably count on one hand the number of books I’ve picked up again and re-read from beginning to end. I don’t want to take the time, which sounds horrible. But there are so many new things to read, and so many things I’ll never get to read for the first time as it is.
So a book that I choose to re-read has to be one that I both enjoyed that much, but also realize fairly desperately that I need to understand something about it more clearly that I probably didn’t the first time through. Like that something about it rang an inexplicable bell, but through a murky fog.
Native Speaker was like that for me in college, when we first read it in Asian-American Literature class. Having just read Chang-rae Lee’s latest novel, which is so different from this one in my memory, I was driven to take another look at what had attracted me so powerfully to his writing in the first place, in the story of a first-generation Korean-American professional spy.
I didn’t actually remember very much of the plot, still in the grip as I was of my memory of Lee’s fluid, lyrical grasp of the experience of being hamstrung by issues of language and culture. But, unlike the protagonist of the novel, Henry Park, without any identifiable reason or claim as to why I had always felt like a foreigner, a non-native speaker—eternally and irreparably. It was baffling.
It probably had fallen into a category of things I once held as “too perfect to let myself get too close to.”
Too close to me in some almost tangible way to risk letting myself know or love them deeply enough to eventually be betrayed or let down.
I’m an inveterate underliner and defacer of hard copies of books; it’s something I have to restrain myself from doing when I read library books, and one of the hardest things for me about reading on a Kindle, is the inability to mark pages and take notes by hand. My copy of Native Speaker was already a several-times used book when I bought it, and there are incidental underlinings and bracketings from several semesters’ worth of Asian-American Literature students before me, in red, blue, and green—ink colors I’ve never used. Notes so pedantic even I would never write them…more like the kinds of observations they felt like they were supposed to make, the facts they were anticipating being grilled on in a quiz, rather than actual personal thoughts or resonances about what the text meant to them.
Then there are just a few underlinings of passages, in black, in the kind of pen that I used religiously at the time, in what could be a younger, clumsier, slightly more pretentious version of my own handwriting. Lines that obviously struck me acutely at the time, but I didn’t readily remember the lines themselves, or why; they didn’t form the backbone of my memory of what I loved about the book.
You don’t tempt fate; you ignore it completely.
Our office motto: Cowardice is what you make of it.
I am the most prodigal and mundane of historians.
It comes flooding back, though.
There are few surprises to my refreshed memory of the book itself. It is as gorgeous as I remembered on the subject of linguistic alienation. (I kind of hate to say that I feel like it’s still Lee’s best book, but I do.) I hadn’t remembered how it ended; I hadn’t had the experience yet for it to mean to me what it does now. But more unexpected is this cumulative, accidental little self-portrait of 21-year-old me: what I struggled with, what I was grasping at language for, what life felt like, what I knew clearly and just how much I didn’t know at all about myself.
(Reading a book set in New York City is also a vastly more rewarding experience when you live there than when you have little personal experience of the place.)
More and different passage of text hit me in the heart this time around. I pick up a pen and start underlining again, this time noting the date in the margin.
In ten years I could be astonished to remember who I was now.
Stranger. Follower. Traitor. Spy.
May 30, 2014
I’m was in the office at work with my boss and a coworker, and I do not even remember how the topic of conversation has turned to public schooling vs. homeschooling. But it has. My coworker starts in on an anecdote, and I have a bad, bad feeling about where this is going.
“We had a homeschooled girl in my high school chemistry class. She was like 12. She was just so far ahead.”
(Maybe not. Sharp intake of breath. Slightly too-long pause.)
“But she was so awkward. And it made the whole class awkward, and it was just awkward to have her there.”
And here we are. At the moment in which, prior to this, I had actually thought that my acceptance in this place, to these people, wasn’t based on me passing myself off as the right kind of person instead of the wrong kind.
The awkward kind.
But it was. And I am. She hadn’t realized, in the way that people usually don’t stop to think whether it’s possible that the people they’re about to mock or denigrate are actually the people they’re talking to.
And I don’t want to start a really nasty fight right then in front of my boss, so I say something moderate and reasonable-sounding about how what really matters is not whether a kid is homeschooled or not, but whether they’ve been isolated or allowed to have outside social opportunities. How some homeschooling families actually just isolate their kids, and that’s wrong, but as long as they’re giving their kids chances to interact with other groups…choir, scouting, church groups, music lessons, art classes…
…instead of “Fuck you very much.”
And I didn’t say what I actually should have, either…in the interest of starting my shift on time and also…not having an awkward argument in my boss’s office.
It’s not a sin to be awkward.
Can we stop talking about it like it is?
A 12-year-old girl hasn’t done anything to you by being awkward, or by taking advantage of her legal right to a free and appropriate public education while awkward.
While we’re at it, can we also stop using “awkward” as a euphemism for incompetent, irritating, immature, overbearing, invasive, inappropriate, or probably autistic but we can’t be seen as scorning someone for being actually disabled so we’re gonna say they’re “awkward” which is obviously just a personal failing that’s fine to use an excuse for their ostracism?
Here’s another newsflash: I know a lot of people who in fact went through 13 years of mainstream public schooling, who are still awkward people. Because it actually isn’t being confined in a cell-block building with a limited number of people, exactly your own age, for over a decade, isolated from your community and adult company, and subjected to sufficient peer pressure to just stop being different, that makes you non-awkward. It’s already possessing a manner of speech, body language, common interests, and gender presentation that’s consistent with those of the vast majority of other people. It’s having a native language of social engagement that is the same as most people around you.
I served my full term in the public school system, I went to the second-largest high school in my state, and I followed that with four years at one of this country’s most regularly top-ranked party schools.
I am still an awkward person. And if you thought I wasn’t, you just haven’t seen me in the right—or the wrong—situation. But I guarantee you it wasn’t lack of ridicule or social pressure to be anything other than what I was that caused this.
It also isn’t being allowed to do your academic work outside of a classroom setting, at a pace that works for you, that makes you awkward, because plenty of non-awkward people do that.
I’d really like people to consider, before the next time they scorn a kid for being awkward, or homeschooling or unconventional schooling for making kids awkward, that they are likely committing a fundamental chicken/egg fallacy.
A homeschooled kid probably isn’t awkward because they were homeschooled.
They are probably homeschooled because they are awkward.
Because they have probably already been forced out of the school system by bullying and abuse or discrimination, or because the school couldn’t or wouldn’t meet their academic needs.
(Being academically precocious: also not a sin.)
I mean, mandatory, universal public school attendance wasn’t even a widespread thing in this country until the early-mid 20th century. Were we really just a nation of incredibly awkward people until the 1920’s or so?
Even if it really were homeschooling that caused awkwardness, I would so much rather a child of mine be awkward than a whole lot of other things that are nowhere near as socially stigmatized as awkwardness: Mean, bigoted, superficial, callous, snide and scornful towards people different from or more vulnerable than themselves.
I’ll take awkwardness any day.
May 26, 2014
In Athens, GA this weekend for my best friend’s wedding yesterday. Had some lovely sunset clouds last night after an unexpected thunderstorm forced us to move dinner and dancing inside on extremely short notice, but it all worked out.
May 19, 2014
Is the Neapolitan night too quiet for her now,
Does she lie awake listening still
in vain for the melancholy thing’s watchful singing
in her cowslip bed
Watch her young husband’s slumber untroubled by memory
of ocean winds in the reeds,
squalls across the wild sand.
Will she ever be able to sleep not sensing
the gaze of a thousand feral and delicate voices.
Her feet are growing soft.
Her ladies dress her in the gray morning.
At breakfast she is learning
the weight of porcelain, silver,
brocade and whalebone, and ceremony.
Is the very silence of their desertion like freedom
to the spirit, she wonders, like peace?
Or does Ariel also not know
what to do with her own hands anymore?
(You ever suffer that experience when looking through old writing, when you cringe and go “I can’t believe I wrote that?” I just had the opposite experience finding this. I wrote it a few years ago. I was working on a production of The Tempest at the time. I found it while looking through old writing for various submissions, and loved it so much all over again I couldn’t believe I wrote it.)