odds and ends / 6.25.2020

Protest sign calling for reparations for the Tulsa Riot, ca. 2000. National Museum of African American History and Culture.


"The Least You Could Do"—"Black people all across the US are receiving the world's weirdest form of reparations: Venmo payments from white people."



An incredible reading/resource list: Bilphena Yahwon's The Womanist Reader

“I needed to find something that would make sense of the grief and despair that was not just choking me, but so many other Black women.” 


Sascha Bonét writes for The Paris Review on collage as "a historical practice of Black imagination":

It has helped us to envision unfathomable futures in the face of violence and uncertainty. It has been a creative way to love each other even though we haven’t been shown care, to express the depths of our experiences even when no one ever asked how we felt, to give evidence to all the things unseen. 


The Wide-Awakes: 'They deliberately targeted young people, calling massive crowds of youths to ‘wake up'... their iconography of an open eye, talk of throwing off past stupor.” 

"[O]ne motivating factor that I am not proud of but that I have recognized as relevant—in my personal circle, a larger number of white people are speaking up, and unconsciously I think that makes it feel safer and more important to care," one person wrote. "I recognize that this is ... highly problematic ... [b]ut I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't recognize this as a layer of this moment for me."

An answer Gene Demby received when he asked Code Switch's new white followers: why now? 

Refusing to collude in injustice is, I’ve found, easier said than done. Collusion is written onto our way of life, and nearly every interaction among white people is an invitation to collusion. 
Eula Biss,"White Debt." NYT 2015.

The only way to avoid rot is to be proactive: check every apple, every tree. At the first sight of something amiss—a bruise or broken skin, a sunken place—toss that apple out, but don’t stop there. Scrub all the others and monitor them closely, but know that it’s likely already too late. Better to trim and burn the infected branch, or even the whole tree

Helen Rosner, "How Apples Go Bad." The New Yorker, 6/6/2020.

The work of the people is what endures. It’s unromantic work, done in small increments, sometimes just as a blueprint for whatever future movements might arise, and it’s more precious than any bronzed monument or seal or city name. The work of the students who will not rest until the cops leave their schools. Of the medics who guide people under the shade of a tree and flush the tear gas out of their eyes. Of the people who sew masks, or make bags of supplies and bike them across the city through police barricades. Of the people who carry bags of ice so that the water stays cold. Of the Black people who sacrifice their own safety to keep their people safe. Of the people who show up to courthouses, and in front of police stations, and in the suburbs. Of the mothers who grieve their dead children and who, despite their grief, continue to fight for the living. The new monuments the people are building toward cannot yet be seen. And still, here we are, leaping forward.

Hanif Abdurraqib, "The Vanishing Monuments of Columbus, Ohio." The New Yorker, 6/24/2020. 

'violence workers'

The evidence has been presented for a century. The recommendations for change for holding police officers accountable, for charging them with criminal offenses when they behave criminally, for establishing citizen review boards that have an independent investigative power, all of it, just like the dozens of consent decrees and pattern and practice Department of Justice investigations like the one done on Ferguson in 2015 or the one done in Chicago in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting in 2017, it's a century of the same story playing out over and over again. So when you ask me the question, what do I think about this moment, what's possible in this moment, it seems to me that's what's possible is recognizing that police officers and police agencies are incapable of fixing themselves. They've never been able to do it, and they've never particularly been compelled to do it. The incentives have never quite added up to be strong enough. 
And so the question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd and I think this question is being asked and answered by more white people than I've seen in my lifetime is, do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of black and in too many cases brown, Indigenous and Asian populations in this country? When I think about Amy Cooper referring to the police as her protection, her personal protection agency, she doesn't have to be conscious to know that she's telling us something that we need to hear beyond the outrage of calling the police on an African American birdwatcher and weaponizing the potential of what might as well have been a 19th-century cry, a fake, false cry for rape, which led to too many black men being lynched and entire communities being burned down to the ground in acts of absolute domestic terrorism. She's telling us something about the political marketplace in this country that has rewarded white fear and protection of white spaces even when it itself is criminal. 
This isn't just about Donald Trump and white supremacists. The line that connects from the history we've talked about here today that connects to the biggest crime bill passed in U.S. history in the 1990s under a Democratic president to a progressive self-identified liberal New Yorker walking her cocker spaniel in Central Park, those lessons have to be taken fully into account and white people are going to have to define a different political marketplace that rewards a different kind of country. 
Do they want the police doing the same thing that slave patrols did in the colonial period, in the antebellum period, in the postbellum period—these are the sheriff's auctions and Klans and Bull Connors—or in the Great Migration era, as has been attested to going back to Chicago all the way up to the present? Because if they want a different outcome, they're going to have to demand a different outcome and one that looks a lot more like the kind of policing they want for themselves as opposed to the one they've been putting on other people.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad. This week, Throughline dedicated an episode to his brilliant, devastating capsule history of policing in the United States.

Part of our misunderstanding about the nature of policing is we keep imagining that we can turn police into social workers. That we can make them nice, friendly community outreach workers. But police are violence workers. That's what distinguishes them from all other government functions. ... They have the legal capacity to use violence in situations where the average citizen would be arrested. 
So when we turn a problem over to the police to manage, there will be violence, because those are ultimately the tools that they are most equipped to utilize: handcuffs, threats, guns, arrests. That's what really is at the root of policing. So if we don't want violence, we should try to figure out how to not get the police involved.

Alex S. Vitale in conversation with Leah Donnella on NPR's Code Switch podcast.

Defunding the police does not mean stripping a department entirely of its budget, or abolishing it altogether. It’s just about scaling police budgets back and reallocating those resources to other agencies, says Lynda Garcia, policing campaign director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “A lot of what we advocate for is investment in community services—education, medical access… You can call it ‘defunding,’ but it’s just about directing or balancing the budget in a different way.”

The concept is simple: When cities start investing in community services, they reduce the need to call police in instances when police officers’ specific skill set isn’t required. “If someone is dealing with a mental health crisis, or someone has a substance abuse disorder, we are calling other entities that are better equipped to help these folks,” Garcia says.

Tessa Stuart, explaining what "defund the police" actually means for Rolling Stone, found thanks to Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey.

A thin safety net, an expansive security state: This is the American way. At all levels of government, the country spends roughly double on police, prisons, and courts what it spends on food stamps, welfare, and income supplements. At the federal level, it spends twice as much on the Pentagon as on assistance programs, and eight times as much on defense as on education. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost something like $6 trillion and policing costs $100 billion a year. But proposals to end homelessness ($20 billion a year), create a universal prekindergarten program ($26 billion a year), reduce the racial wealth gap through baby bonds ($60 billion a year), and eliminate poverty among families with children ($70 billion a year) somehow never get financed. All told, taxpayers spend $31,286 a year on each incarcerated person, and $12,201 a year on every primary- and secondary-school student.

Annie Lowery, "Defund the Police." The Atlantic, June 5, 2020.

Defunding the police sounds radical until you realize we’ve been defunding education for years.

T.J. McKay

'there are days in this country when you wonder what your role in this country is and your place in it.'


The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of Black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, Black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of Black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — Black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights. 
Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of Black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project.


Once again, Black Americans are leading the way, creating an opportunity for this deeply messed-up country to change and do better. Gratitude is too paltry a word to express my feelings for such persistence and courage in the face of such continuous, callous brutality.

What I am doing: Listening. Supporting Project Zero, joining the NAACP, donating to Black Lives Matter Cleveland and bail funds. Talking to my kid, talking to my friends, talking to my family. Moving forward, messily and imperfectly, in the work of trying to live an anti-racist life.

odds and ends / 5.15.2020

Image of masked women, from the collection of Billy Parrot.


Charles Mahoney (1903-1968): Miss Edith inspects the Sweetpea, ca. 1934.


Excerpt from Self-Hypnosis, Explained, 1978, from stopping off place.


Set of ten ink cakes with poems of the Ten Scenes at the Westlake in cursive script style (xingshu), ca. 1736-95


Page of an herbarium by Abigail Bainbridge.


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Le Lit (The Bed), 1893.

In fairy tales, form is your function and function is your form. If you don’t spin the straw into gold or inherit the kingdom or devour all the oxen or find the flour or get the professorship, you drop out of the fairy tale, and fall over its edge into an endless, blank forest where there is no other function for you, no alternative career. The future for the sons who don’t inherit the kingdom is vanishment. What happens when your skills are no longer needed for the sake of the fairy tale? A great gust comes and carries you away.

Sabrina Orah Mark, "Fuck the Bread. The Bread is Over." The Paris Review, 5/7/2020.

Lockdown has made me aware of something I barely noticed before: the many opportunities that my old life provided for escape. More specifically, the almost gracious way that society was set up to allow me, and many others, to slip from one role into another and another as the day rolled by. This flow strikes me as distinctively modern. And it is gone now, temporarily. The heterogenous, compartmentalized life of before is replaced with a life where your Main Thing is now your Only Thing. At moments it’s fascinating to live this way, but there’s also a sting. It’s the sting of being unable to take turns carrying each other’s burdens.

Katherine Sharpe, "Billionaires of Time." n + 1, 5/11/2020.

‘Isn’t this grief?’ I’m asked. Perhaps. So what? We are so accustomed to contrasting sentiment with reason that we have forgotten that emotion can sharpen our vision, opening us to otherwise overlooked evidence on which reason can act. When serene, I threw about the benefit of the doubt as a gift to all. Now I see it is a currency with which our leaders will buy first-class tickets off the hook.

Stephen Methven, "Staying Angry." London Review of Books Blog, 4/16/2020.

Viruses are prodigious catalysts of evolution. By shuttling genetic material between organisms they generate evolutionary novelty and have even made possible some of our deepest intimacies: as placental mammals we depend on genes acquired from viruses to develop within our mothers. Viruses enter their hosts and must suspend their immune systems; developing mammals are faced with a similar challenge. In the absence of these viral genes, it wouldn’t be possible for embryos to share bodily space with their mother without being rejected as an other, a non-self. I can’t stop thinking about this. Our parental care, our social bonding, our need for closeness—all have their roots in a viral infection. I hope that the current period of cultural evolution catalyzed by a virus can draw us towards a state of greater care, bondedness, and consideration—both towards other humans, and towards the more-than-humans with whom we share the planet. Of course, it could do quite the opposite.

Merlin Sheldrake in conversation with Robert MacFarlane at LitHub, 5/12/2020.


New favorite online timewaster: Gotta Eat the Plums! (Discovered thanks to Nadia.)


Dolphins swimming in a bioluminescent sea (found thanks to Ashley).


Best sweatshirt.


How to make ice cream in a Mason jar. And a recipe for this particular green soup.


Every choice is a refusal. For Christ’s sake
I am guarding the walls.
Like punctuation,
it could make all the difference.

Karen Solie, from "A Hermit." The Paris Review, Issue 218, Fall 2016.

gifts some mothers may enjoy

An exuberantly bowed Collina Strada mask, made from deadstock fabric. Each one sold funds five masks for healthcare workers in New York City.

Masha Tea 'Calm' blend, because, yes, I could use a bag stamped "CALM" full of something brewable and floral and relaxing. 

Heavy Oil, because they look like little vials of magic potions.

Marcel Dzama's 'Coloring the Moon Pink': a free downloadable coloring book 'made in collaboration with the artist’s son during quarantine [that acknowledges] the families who are having to discover new ways to balance work, school, and life while isolated at home together.' Perfect paired with a tin of superior crayons.

Beklina Lima sneakers: cork-soled, Velcroed awesomeness to wear around the house and out to get the mail.

Amy Merrick's On Flowersan escape hatch into a marvelous bloomy world disguised as a very beautiful and deeply charming book. (Full disclosure: I lent a hand on the making of this book and am 100% biased).

For Zoom painting sessions with faraway friends: a Case for Making x Gravel and Gold O, Horizons brush roll and supplies.

The gift of a homemade kite (or a handmade one that doubles as a work of art), because there is nothing like the wind to help blow troubles away, if only for a little while.

Extremely comfortable non-sweat/non-leggings pants.

Faris Vero bracelet—a wearable reminder that something doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.


These are weird times. We've all been shoved into new ways of living, and everyone is standing in very different places as they navigate the change. I am in lucky, lucky circumstances, at least for now, and the days still feel abrasive and hard to manage.

A part of my heart is with small businesses, especially the creators and purveyors of the magical and sometimes impractical stuff and spaces that give me so much unreasonable joy. Each small business is someone's dream come true—an idea that became real through work and luck and timing. And now, timing—well, the timing is all wrong for everything. And while it's enraging that we are in the middle of fighting for absurdly basic things we all should have already, like food and safety and non-bankrupting healthcare and childcare and leaders who actually think and care and plan, I hope somehow in this scrum to survive we find a way to hold a little space for dreamers and dreamy things. This list is a little gesture toward that.

Nothing here is sponsored; it's just things I've seen and liked and hope (maybe?) you might like, too. I don't know—maybe the very thought of a gift guide will make people want to throw their phone/computer/digital interface device out the window. I get it; this week, I collapsed in an inarticulate rage sputter after reading an essay about buying $56/lb crab meat to make comforting toast. That said, Margaret Wise Brown—a hero of mine—once spent an entire paycheck to buy every flower on a flower cart and then threw a party for her friends. But flowers make sense to me. If I was a different person, maybe I'd buy the crab. As it is, I am buying my mother roses.

imaginary outfit: couch haunting

Back in the before days, when we still could go to places, I rarely went to events—time was scarce, and most of the things I wanted to go to were far away, in other cities. The thinnest silver lining of this locked-down time is that institutions are trying new things, and all sorts of rare pleasures are suddenly much more accessible: I can listen to epic poems, watch ballets and plays, see beloved musicians play songs in their bathrobes and hear heartbreaking covers

Tonight at 7:00, I am going to head to my couch with a glass of plonk and a plate of whatever I can rustle up out of the pantry (olives? dried apricots?) and listen to Francesca Wade and Ruth Franklin discuss Wade's new book, Square Haunting. It's about the lives of five women—Virginia Woolf, Dorothy L. Sayers, Hilda Doolittle, Eileen Power, and Jane Ellen Harrison—who all lived in London's Mecklenberg Square between the wars.

Virtual events call for virtual outfits. This, perhaps, is too prim and pretty and tastefully matchy-matchy for anything to do with free-spirited iconoclastic women, but dressing up at all right now is a low-key radical move. And I do wish I had a flower-strewn dress, navy slippers, and gemstone fly earrings to wear while pouring tea from a bone-china pot painted with leaping foxes and rabbits as I listen to stories about marvelous complicated people. 

I think I'm going to pull out my grandmother's wedding crystal for that glass of wine.  


shelf life

The kind folks over at Nasher Sculpture Center asked me to contribute a Shelf List—'an archive of nonperishable cultural sustenance from friends around the world.'  Mine features zany Instagram cartoons, William Steig, swimmers with a death wish, women sculptors, arty flowers, transmundane drawing clubs, and one of my favorite artist's unabashed enjoyment of my favorite carbonated beverage.

You can give it a peek here.

Fun fact: A while back I wrote a little piece for the Nasher about my 2018 trip to Kettle's Yard, one of the most perfect houses in the world (includes pictures, too, though it is worth an online image search because it is such a special space).


Joseph Rudolf Witzel: Leander, 1897. From the NYPL Digitial Archive: 'Leander drowned when swimming across the Hellespont (Dardanelles Strait) at night, trying to visit his love, Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite.'