{the incidental unkindnesses of junior high}

Soooo, it started with the brilliant National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang cartooning about his middle school Glare of Disdain in the NYT, and how it took books to show him that someone else he abused – to make sure he wasn’t the bottom of the social heap – could have worth. And then author Uma Krishnaswami blogged briefly about what she termed “the small, incidental meannesses of childhood.” And now, it’s my turn – with apologies to Joyce Kilmer.

Undeserved

I hope I nevermore shall be
a tool like I was to Ray B. —

A boy whose brown skin and sharp dress,
IMMEDIATELY my class impressed…

(And, junior high became a hell
– Since he was black, like me, as well.)

From that first day we were a pair
– in others’ eyes, I was aware –

To speak to him, I did not deign
– He started acting like a pain…

I was a vicious little pill. The memory, it haunts me still.

Glares of disdain from foolish …me were undeserved by Raymond B.

Ray was a funny, wisecracking annoyance like every other 8th grade boy, and completely innocent of the scheming machinations of the girls who told me if I knew what was good for me, I’d snap him up — and I STILL took my shame and humiliation out on him. It was indefensible, though I know that I was reacting from the position of being one of the only black girl in the class who was deemed “normal” enough to auto-pair with the ONLY black boy in our class. (“Angie” – class valedictorian, was apparently too smart and not cool enough; I, with my more developed person, was often accused of “stealing” boyfriends, so was a threat needing to be neutralized. Gah.) I hated that automatic assumption, the blind, officious hideousness of dropping ‘hints’ that I should Go For It, that it was all Meant To Be, because, obviously, two black kids, we had found our Destiny! UGH. ::shudder:: Still – poor Ray. Sorry, dude. Not your fault.

Do you find the various petty cruelties of childhood still haunt you?

{dear mr. handler}

November 20, 2014

Dear Mr. Handler:

I remember the last two National Book Award books I’ve read – the Gene Yang and the Sherman Alexie books both blew me away, so I know BROWN GIRL DREAMING must be STUPENDOUS. So soon after Ms. Woodson’s words during the We Need Diverse Books debacle, this award is a real triumph. I am SO pleased for Jacqueline Woodson! These are my thoughts today, while you’re beating yourself up at home, probably wishing to God that you had never seen a green-and-white striped melon, much less told an allergy joke, expressed lighthearted dismay about not being eligible for the CSK Award, or made light of racial profiling. Today you are possibly feeling a little like the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere.

Dear Mr. Handler, thank you for acknowledging that you spoke with your mouth full of privilege, and with your eyes blinded by it. Thank you for understanding the extent to which you had erred, and thank you for your apology. I am writing to remind you that the best apologies on earth are non erbis sed operis; not words, but deeds. You made a solid and humble apology – acknowledging what you did, not blaming anyone else or excusing yourself. But, the very best apologies make restitution. Here’s what I’d like to suggest:

First, buy Ms. Woodson a case of high-end champagne or whatever non-alcoholic fancy bottled drink of her choosing. Raise a silent glass to her well-deserved award for sharing such a personal and touching story, and applaud again the National Book Foundation’s good taste in awarding her this honor.

Next, buy half a print run of BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Take it in your mittened hands, and walk it around frigid New York. Press it into the warm palms of school children in large suburban schools. Press it into the hands of middle-aged shoppers at the Mall. Press it into the hands of elderly people coming out of church. Fly to a different state. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Finally, in silence, allow the furor to die. Don’t speak. Let your acknowledgement of your error be your last words to the Outrage Machine that is Twitter on this subject. By your silence, you can assist in directing the attention back to Jacqueline Woodson where it rightfully belongs. The social media world is a vicious critic, quick to indict, quick to a blood frenzy – and you may feel this sting for awhile, but lifting up someone else has always been the best way to mitigate the effects of negativity. Using your influence, your money and your time to boost this talented and lovely author is honestly the least – and the best – you can do.

And, know that this too shall pass.

Still a fan,

-tsd

EDITED TO ADD

As a postscript, I want to respond to the idea of “permission racism:”

I’d previously suggested that Mr. Handler put his head down, close his mouth up, and Do Better. Doing Better may eventually mean an explanation — but how about at a We Need Diverse Books event, and not on Twitter? Perhaps at a public event, in person, he can say why he thought his remarks were funny/edgy, and why he now knows that he’s wrong and what he’s going to do with his newfound understanding. That would be a powerful step in further opening the door on dialogue about race in publishing.

His fund matching to me isn’t giving him permission to be racist after the fact. A part of a good apology is to own what you did, and the final piece is to take steps to make restitution. He can’t restore the whole night – we don’t time travel yet, and he’s not hardly a god – but I think he’s doing so much more than many others would in his position. Which is maybe faint praise, but it’s what I’ve got. For me, this is about US as kidlitosphere people. I don’t want us to be vicious. I don’t want Daniel Handler to be the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere… I really don’t. And I think we shouldn’t let the Outrage Machine of Twitter goad us into asking him to do unrealistic, ridiculous mea culpas through his whole life, and still act like there is NO forgiveness for him, at any point, at any date, EVER, because Racist! and Let’s Get Him! Here is a truth: EVERYONE has perceptions and biases and comprehensions that are less than ideal. I don’t at all like the concept that “everyone’s a little bit racist,” but I certainly will concede that everyone speaks poorly from privilege at times, from bias, from mistaken attempts at humor and relating that fall painfully flat, or edge toward disrespectful and stupid. We need to be as gracious to him as we would want others to be to ourselves. Seriously.

{dear ms. lee}

old school typewriter I

15 July 2014

Dear Ms. Lee:

I just wanted you to know I will NOT be reading the book, THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR, by Marja Mills. This is no sacrifice, as you told us all in 2011 that you had not given that woman access to your life except as a neighbor, and that any writing she did was unauthorized snooping.

How lowering it must be, to realize that a woman has befriended someone in your circle of family and friends, merely to validate her stalking, predatory and downright creepy need to delve into your life and peer into your past. I resent this so fiercely on your behalf — it is your right to be as reclusive and introverted as a blind mole, should the mood take you. What is WRONG with this society? Why can we not leave people alone??? Why must we assume everyone wants to be Facebooked, Tweeting, instant-instagrammed and dissected, splayed and pinned on a vivisectionist’s board? How gauche and galling of Penguin to go on, marketing the book as a cozy peep into your private world, a guided tour of YOU by a dear and trusted friend, when it is in nowise any such thing?

What an offensive, egregious thing our curiosity has become! It seems our society believes that a celebrated individual who withdraws from interviews and cameras is somehow slyly managing a public relations stunt, and feeding an enormous ego, instead of perhaps truly not wishing to have their every move tracked and reported. The voracious maw of celebrity news is always nibbling, chewing, ravaging, always greedily clawing for more.

So, Ms. Lee, I am resolved: I will not read the book. I will not acknowledge it, nor comment upon when others bring it up. I will, instead, reread your beautifully poised classic novel, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and marvel again over the spare, evocative sentences that painted such a vivid picture of innocence and angst in a sleepy Southern town, of fear of the unknown twisted into bigoted, posturing rage, of childhood innocence, racial prejudice, and the shining spark of human goodness that withstood the engrained stench of an old evil.

With well-deserved and heartfelt thanks for your exquisite body of work,

Your deeply respectful admirer, whose affection compels her never to mail this.

{dear j.j. abrams, this is why we can’t have nice things}

Dear Mr. Abrams:

Okay, granted – so I’m a year late, or whatever, with viewing your last film. You’ll accept my apology for not seeking it out; I’ve not even seen the first Star Trek reboot, and only sat through the second because it was Netflixed while I was visiting here in Portland. It was not rented by me under the umbrella of “Bad SciFi Night material, so I’ll tell you straight – STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS gave me an unexpected and jarring headache. There were any number of reasons, including the continuation of the role of James T. Kirk, Professional Lothario (a female weapons specialist in the plot and in her bra for him to skewer with his rapacious male gaze? Really? that’s all she was? Leg broken, shot, bashed around – notice she was so very, very, very, very pretty, the whole movie long. Also: when SPOCK had radiation burns, he died. In an unattractive and burnt-looking way. How did we avoid that this time? Oh, it was Kirk. Forget it, my bad.); the whole Khan-as-Sikh-Latino-Englishman thing… (how hard would it have been, really to find a South Asian actor??), the pivotal members of crew reacting instead of acting, Spock so DEEPLY out of character, shouting “Khan” (WAS. THAT. NECESSARY.), the manipulative faux “tender” moments, the TRIBBLE — all these things were completely migraine-triggering.

But the biggest and most annoying difficulty with this movie for me is WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LITTLE GIRL???

What little girl, you ask?

Oh, THAT ONE. The one which we see all in white, with her crinkly hair combed down, the one we see looking perfect and quiet and still and … apparently forgettable to everyone, in a weirdly oblique way.

Here she was apparently important enough for the entire film to start with her parents silently agonizing over her no-tubes-in-her-she-still-lookslike-she’s-just-sleping illness, the catalyst for her father to destroy a major portion of Star Fleet intelligence in exchange for her life (and pray, what proof did he have that she got well, or would continue to do well? What father would put in some strange liquid in an IV and just go off with a “Welp, that’s done it, I’m gonna go hold up my end now” ? How could he sell his daughter – and expend the lives of his countrymen – without assurance?), the reason to believe some random Caucasian savior who says he can cure her – one man, when an entire hospital has tried? – here’s this apparent medical miracle that occurs, AND HER STORYLINE JUST VANISHES?

Seriously, Mr. Abrams, did I miss something? I looked for that girl FOR THE REST OF THE MOVIE. Wasn’t she saved for a reason? Isn’t she going to, you know, do something? She was a convenient prop, and just… abandoned with a two-dimensional role, as were the other brown people in the movie? (Klingon: there to be killed. Uhura: there to be capricious, female, and hot. Oh, and brown. Sulu: Actual Role. Phew. Brown guy in away team/lady on the bridge: there to show up in two scenes and have maybe a word, and maybe a name. /End ethnically diverse character list.)

So, this little girl’s father judged her important enough to kill 42 people, and you decide she’s so unimportant that she doesn’t even matter? We don’t even get her name?

You might argue that this is a small point upon which to founder my respect for your storytelling, but it’s the point where I could go no further. I think the absence of anything but the broadest strokes of action and jingoism, grandstanding and self-aggrandizing behavior left a film full of holes. It kind of makes me sad, because …well, because I loved Star Trek once.

Once, it was important enough for Martin Luther King, Jr. to tell an actress to keep playing a part she thought was small and unimportant. Once, it was important enough to make Whoopi Goldberg think, “Wow, there’s a black lady on that show. I could maybe be an actress, too.”

Once, it was important. And, you have all the roots of the concepts with which Gene Roddenberry infused the show, and somehow, important is the one thing it’s not.

And, all we can do is ask ourselves why.

{the fine points of getting it right, or “why aren’t you representing?”}

Dear Store,

So, yeah, yesterday I visited you, and cringed at the massive display of cases of Jamison’s and Guinness, and a countdown clock to St. Patrick’s Day, and now, I have a teeny rant: Thanks, Store, for subtly reinforcing the worn out, hoary stereotype that there’s nothing more to Irish culture than being a flat-out, pishing, green-wearing drunk. Nothing exists in a vacuum, Store, and even your displays helps shape the lens of how people see the world. Your reinforcing a tired old cliché does not serve anyone, and helps to obliterate the record of the myriad brilliant, incisive and influential Irish and Irish-American people that I know personally. Just so you know.

Also, please note I didn’t mention you by name, as you’ve probably not yet gotten my note about it, but next year, if you do it again? It’s ON.


As I’ve no doubt mentioned repeatedly on this blog, representation was one of the BIG Questions that came at me repeatedly in grad school: “Why aren’t you representing,” or, “why aren’t you representing more?” I will admit that for a long time, I wrote stories under the shorthand For some people, when you present a culture as the “norm,” it’s too subtle for them. They want you to exaggerate certain qualities and create a caricature more than a three-dimensional whole. People sometimes don’t even know they’re doing that, and end up exoticizing an entire culture. Everyone Mexican can make tortillas, wears a serape, and likes to nap with her sombrero tipped over her face during siestas; everyone Japanese is a geisha or a kung fu master, etc…

“The Kingdom in Huntress is influenced by Chinese and Japanese culture, but it is not China or Japan. It is a fictional fantasy world…” ~ Malinda Lo, author of ASH and HUNTRESS, in “On avoiding the exotic in HUNTRESS,” from her blog, 2 Sept. 2011.

What I’ve been asking myself is how to represent a culture in a fantasy world without exoticizing it, and turned to author and anthropologist Malinda Lo’s blog for help in thinking it through. Is it enough to set a book in a fictional version of North/Northeast Africa and southern Italy during a fictional Ottoman Empire? I don’t think so, not inherently. Is it exoticizing to take note of the actual clothes, foods, and religious and social mores from the real Ottoman Empire in its heyday, and use that in the book? No, especially if I can subtly include them without making them A Thing. So… what would make this exotic? Malinda speaks of her own work:

“What makes something exotic? It can certainly be philosophy or beliefs, but more often, I think exoticism resides in things you can actually see or hear. Clothing, food, music, architecture: these are the external markers of difference.” ~ M. Lo

So, taking note of that, these are among the things I will avoid: no despotic ruler clichés, no warmongering, fanatical religious Muslims. Further, there will be no untrustworthy, swarthy mafioso types, and while I can’t promise no short, or hirsute, or curly haired, or dark skinned or chauvinistic characters, these things won’t occur because a character is Sicilian. There will be no obsequious, effendi-panting slyly servile types, no Ali Baba and Aladdin, Sindbad or any one of Forty Thieves. No Oriental-ism, with swoopy calligraphy and poufy turban saber-wearing sultans, swathed in mysticism and curly-toed shoes, reclining on Persian carpets whilst being danced for by those sloe-eyed temptresses from the harem. Also, people will wear a color other than black, and not eat only spaghetti.

Honestly, I should think most of these egregious stereotypes would be easy to avoid… the point of adding cultural richness is to place the character right in the midst of the riches, not keep them self-conscious about it, and always commenting on the nubile chick tossing off veils in the corner as she dances, and the smoke of the hookah or whatnot (and really. Must I have a hookah? I think not).

Yeah, you’d THINK this stuff would be obvious… but too many people mess up with exoticism for me to believe that, so, we’ll see.

Writing thoughtfully,

-t

{scaredy cats}

So, Friday, my chiropractor’s retiring.

I know, some of you don’t believe in chiropractors, but for me, that’s kind of like saying you don’t believe in needles. They’re there. They do whatever job is put in front of them. You don’t have to like them for them to be able to do something for you. Sometimes the wrong thing, but, they do a thing.

So, anyway: my chiropractor.

He’s kind of amazing. Not so much for what he does – not so much for how he adjusts my spine, but who he is, while doing it. He’s kind. Unfailingly, unflappably kind. The first time we met, he didn’t say anything about the obvious stiffness in my body language, the silent scream of I Don’t Want You To Touch Me, Back Off. He didn’t say anything at my monosyllabic responses to his friendly conversation. He didn’t chide me or try to sweet-talk me into relaxing. He simply said, “Y’know, I’ve had all kinds of patients over the years, all ages, all sizes, and I’ve never dropped one of them.”

dancing cats

He put that out there in a kind of “by the way, one more thing you should know about our practice here,” kind of voice, slipped in amongst the commentary on office hours and treatment plans and various. You think it, unconsciously, when someone is in a position to manipulate your person. You think it – or at least I do, here on my little island of crazy – You think way down deep (or, some days, not so far down at all) that maybe this person will hurt you. Maybe they’ll miss your vein with that needle, maybe they’ll leave that pressure cuff on your arm ’til your hand falls off, maybe they’ll drop you.

It’s crazy, yes, that place where we sometimes live. And yet, without a lot of fuss, my chiropractor put it out there that I didn’t have to worry.

And I was unreasonably grateful.

I don’t think a lot about the medical personnel to whom I should be grateful. I don’t think about it, because I don’t like to, because I am constantly and unreasonably angry with my body. Constantly and unreasonably angry with my limitations, with the microcytic pinpoints that masquerade as blood cells, carrying oxygen and iron so inadequately. I am constantly and unreasonably angry that things I thought were normal, were simply quirks of me, but which I am fast discovering were little telltales of problems – things that, to hear my endocrinologist tell it (and that man is his own blog post), someone who wasn’t a blind idiot should have seen, and known.

My reaction to this medical blindness veers between that same constant and unreasonable anger, frustration, and then – deflated sadness/depression. Getting back into the grove with the American medical system has been painful, depressing and lacerating to the ego. How could it be much else to be reduced to a collection of things in someone’s eyes, a list of things, and not a person?

It is amazing how being asked a checklist of questions about yourself can be outright daunting. “You haven’t had problems with Z? You’ve never X? And there’s no history of Y in your family, none at all?” At each questions, the brows rise higher, the soulless oval of face wrinkles, the mouth twists in disbelief. It’s like the doctor sat in front of me and silently repeated “But, you had to have done something. This is, in some way, your fault.”

And so we wage then, a silent war. She looks at me with condescension and asks her questions, and I think back, loudly, “No, I am not classically ill in the textbook way you’d prefer. No, I am not suffering from things preventable by simple nutritional means. No, I am not accepting your casual judgment that if I just did A and B and C that it would all get better, and that I could then go away, be crossed off your list. I have tried all twenty-six versions, my dear, do not assume that I would be here if I had any other choice. Do not assume that I would let myself be skinned by your lancet if I had any. other. choice.”

Oh, you betcha, I’m projecting. As I write this, I realize that it could also be said that I hate doctors. It is true, and also not true. I have come to really appreciate my endocrinologist, who, in my first conversation with him said, “None of this is your fault. Throw that out of your mind.” I kind of love him, though you couldn’t have told from our first, disastrous visit. I was my usual monosyllabic, self-conscious self, and I think he despaired of me. It comes down, for me, to a dis-ease with authority, a cat-scratching, back-arched, spitting, hissing refusal to be told, to submit to their opinion on ANYTHING about me that I don’t want to hear. I do not acknowledge their superior knowledge of my person, they are not right. I am. I am. I am. And on my heart beats.

scared 1

This attitude, of course, is equal parts hubris and terror, just as the cat currently shredding your arm knows darned well that you are much, much larger than it, and can carelessly relieve it of one of its nine lives with a mere twist of your hands – but it chooses not to acknowledge any of the above, and does the best it can to disembowel before springing away and disappearing under the bed. We go in with illness – and attitude, we scaredy cats, and come out shaking, exhausted, and ready to hide.

This is healthcare.

But, anyway: my chiropractor.

He’s a good man, and I am so glad he’s retiring, because you should, you know, if at all possible, stop working when you can still enjoy your life. He’s going to Oregon, to tie flies like he has been, since he was fourteen, to continue fishing, like he has been, since he was fourteen; pulling the silver-finned rainbows out of the water, admiring them, and throwing them back. Not gonna lie: I think that is just weird as heck, and probably a little mean to the fish, but I suspect being temporarily netted instead of permanently eaten is merely an inconvenience, rather than a tragedy. He is a good man, and I am made grateful for his calm, quirky temperament, his placid nature and the time I spent with someone who didn’t drop me, who never, by thought or look, communicated to me that I am unlovely or unwell. His position as traffic warden on my road to wellness allowed him to be sure I was pointed in the right direction and not judge my mode of transportation.

Thank you. And, good luck, Dr. Patterson.

{A Letter to “Reality” TV}

Dear – no, wait. You’re not at all dear. You’re an annoyance that keeps on giving. But, I digress.

Reality TV:

How I loathe the fact that even sans television, I cannot escape you.

Thank you to everyone who forwarded the clip of Jonathan Antoine and his almost nameless female partner (she has a name, Charlotte Jaconelli, but people are choosing to ignore it, and mostly ignore her), every blog that posted it, ever news outlet which regurgitated the story over and over and over again: “OMG, big people can, like, do things! Squee!” Granted, that wasn’t the reason some of you sent it. Admittedly, it is with a warm feeling of frank admiration that people are passing this on – the image of a sweet-faced kid who would rather shrug than answer questions, whose hands shake as they grip the mic, whose hair reminds us of Weird Al’s before age and hair products thinned it from its former springy glory. When he opens his mouth, none of those things matter; he sounds like a youthful Pavarotti. Viewers are entranced, charmed, humbled, tearful.

Dear Reality TV: how is it that you are still enamored with this?

What, because the kid’s overweight, he couldn’t possibly have a good voice? Because that evil numpty, Simon Cowell expresses doubt and dismay aloud – “Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse,” – we’re meant to have silently agreed? It amazes me how you can just keep trotting this storyline over and over again. It’s manipulative and weird and troubling, and …people eat it up. I just keep thinking, “Really? Does anyone still think that just because you’re heavy, or older-middle-aged, or dressed in less-than-stylish clothing, or not perfect looking, or not mainstream conventional somehow, therefore you can’t _____ ” Sing, dance, walk and chew gum, whatever? I mean, seriously, Reality Shows?

Were I being generous, I would say that these talent shows are like the cattle calls they have for Broadway and stuff – you go, you audition, you take your chances. But I am not generous, I am blunt. The set up on this show — the build up to the kid going on stage in this disheveled rock star T-shirt – when he’s performed on Youtube in suits – the obvious sneers from the judges, the camera panning picks up anxious, doubtful, twisted faces in the crowd… to GLORY! And AMAZEMENT! And WONDER! And he’s AWESOME! The crowd finds its feet and ROARS!

Doesn’t ANYONE else feel just the tiniest bit… manipulated?

Dear Reality Show Allegedly Praising Talent, YOU ARE NOT ABOUT TALENT, YOU ARE ABOUT SPECTACLE. You are all about the freakshow, the circus, the shallow, quickly passing distraction. You value success, but only for a given value of said. “Hey, look, we found Loser A, B, and C here. You want to stare at them. You want to be mesmerized by their very freakishness. Look! Stare! Listen to Cyanide Cowell say what you hadn’t thought of saying, but now pretend you had! And then, INSERT DRAMATIC TWIST HERE: Watch How We Turn Your Opinion Around!!! It’s the familiar trope of sow’s ear into silk purse, the diamond in the coal bin, the rags-to-riches, prince-from-pauper. It’s JUST SHOCKING that someone not conventional looking COULD HAVE THE LEAST LITTLE BIT OF TALENT, WORTH, OR SUCCESS. Please, quick – let’s shout it from the heavens, and put it alllll over Teh Internets!

Same old story, the least nourishing fodder ever, and still everyone opens wide and gulps it down — a little teary, sobbing that now they have proof that dreams do come true.

Oh, puh-lease.

I realize I sound like a cynical witchling. Listen, though. I have nothing against Jon Antoine. I have nothing against people who audition for things. I have nothing against dreams. I have something major against lies and manipulation. I just hate the idea that at some point this will cease to entertain the Capitol, and you’ll drag another poorly armed District pledge into the arena and break out the cornucopia. This guy braves the freak show to get a quick celebrity boost, and then — ? And God help him if he’s at all emotionally fragile or truly shy — think about it. Where is Susan Boyle? Still recording? Now that she’s more together-looking no longer interesting to the cameras? How long does Jonathan Antoine have? The clock on his fifteen minutes of fame is tick-tick-ticking – what lengths will he go to to stay on the stage? How many other people will he mow down? How long will you keep looking?

Bread and circuses, Reality TV. Panem et circenses.

With no love for you, and a deep desire that you would just die and burn to ashes,

Me.

{my funny anti-Valentine}

Gingerbread Valentine 03 Gingerbread Valentine 06 Gingerbread Valentine 08

This is another story of how Flat Stanley came to be made.
It does not involve the stork.

Dear Susan

This year, at Valentine’s Day, as always, I remember you.

I’ve washed my favorite black dress trousers and my favorite v-necked black shirt, and am prepared to sail out into the world, forcibly sharing cookies and love with everyone. And making them share back. (Okay, maybe not that last bit, but it kind of goes with the fascism: you have to elevate and impose the idea above the people. And the idea is LOVE, gosh darn it all. BE LOVING OR ELSE.)

I thought of you recently because as well as writing letters of appreciation to people every year, my friend Farida is rethinking Valentine’s Day. To improve myself, I am attempting the letter, but I should probably do that rethinking thing sometime. Instead, I am stuck with the version of me that you met junior year at Rio. Your junior year, anyway. I was a senior, and you were already far cooler than I.

I wonder what you really saw – the geeky girl in badly dyed black jeans, who over-earnestly read your back issues of Sassy and Jane and tried to emulate your dress sense? Or some wannabe trying to Make A Statement about the herd mentality of high school, and the stress-inducing pressure I felt to convey honest emotion on cue, in a prescribed way, on a proscribed day? How funny to me now that I told you that I was mourning the death of saints. I was mourning the death of an idea, too… that I would ever eventually be able to be in sync with the rest of the world.

I don’t know what you saw, but instead of laughing, you went back to your room and changed clothes. And you joined me in the wearing of Ironic Black In Protest every year that I knew you – despite the fact that both of us were nattered at and had eyes rolled at us for being sour grapes about Valentine’s “just because you don’t have boyfriends” (which you did sometimes) or because we were “feminazis” and with all kinds of anti-men issues (and I refuse to justify that stupidity with a response). You stuck with it, and stuck with me. And unlike mine, your blacks even matched, because you are That Cool.

And a thousand years past high school, I still think about you on Valentine’s Day as I pull on my black trou, and step into my black boots, and pull on my black gloves. My opting out becomes less ironic each year, and more of a conscious as I acknowledge the stresses which surround the idea of holidays. Opting out creates a sane space in my head so that I can say, “It’s not that I hate you along with the holiday – it’s just that I’ll tell you I love you tomorrow.” Instead of words, I can offer something which melts on the tongue – a little zingy, a lot spicy, a more realistic reflection of our lives, which are composed of both the sweet and a little sharpness of lemon icing.

Dear Susan. Thank you for, once upon a time, being my friend.

Gingerbread Valentine 01

Go ‘head St. Julia: Finally a bestseller.

Dear St. Julia:

How about that Julie/Julia movie?

Just in case you haven’t had time to check it out, The Art of French Cooking is on the best-seller list. It’s only taken forty-eight years, but now everyone knows you are made of awesome. Pounds of rich, real butter, white pepper, red wine, and all.

Love, Lainey

I think she would be rather chuffed. And amused by it all.

Original photo here.