I want to write about the protests I saw yesterday, with my daughter, who is an 8-year-old string-bean, blonde and strong.
There are the protests we see on our screens—the photogenic protests, the darkness and fire, the police taking a knee, screams and smoke, rods and shields. We all see one picture, and we all feel the protests are one thing.
But they aren’t. Even in one place, on one street, they are many things at once.
I saw two protests yesterday, here in Michigan.
The first was a lone Black woman—young, maybe just a girl. She stood flanked by the trees at the edge of Washtenaw Ave—four lanes of fast traffic, a commercial strip connecting this town and the next. She wore a blue surgical mask and gloves and a plaid shirt, buttoned to the wrists and neck, despite the heat. Her head was bowed over a wide cardboard sign, particolored letters:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
The other protest was a march down Industrial Ave—which is exactly what it sounds like: an industrial strip of carpet stores and auto shops, a car wash and a bowling alley, the old rail line running along the backs of their lots. I stumbled into this protest with my daughter, after going to the hardware for lumber and locks and candles and a garden hose.
We watched them pass. They were silent. No songs, no shouting, no slogans. It was like no protest or rally I’d ever seen, not in decades of attending protests (occasionally to protest, but far more often to watch or report or chaperone teens).
This was like a funeral procession. So quiet. So steady, implacable. Not mournful; dignified.
Many ad hoc and improvised signs, scraps of cardboard, mostly BLACK LIVES MATTER riffs. One said “DO NOT AVERT YOUR EYES.” And so I did not—it was only in seeing that sign that I realized that it was my inclination to do so, even though I’d come down the street specifically to see what I could see.
Those who walked were Black and White. Young. They wore their masks and shorts and t-shirts—it was hot, and the sun fierce on the street.
Another sign, the largest, a flattened refrigerator box, read:
STOP KILLING BLACK PEOPLE
The sign’s bearer was extremely light skinned, a Black & White son in black shorts and t-shirt. My heart always goes out to the kids who are neither fish nor fowl. I’m with you, brothers and sisters: The world constantly demands we not be half of what we are.
I raised a fist. Eyes turned to me, fists raised in acknowledgement, and my heart stopped. It was like being saluted by ghosts.
The procession had a police escort. An SUV slowly rolling to the fore to clear traffic, another slowly rolling behind, protecting the procession from the impatient cars piling up. No lights. No sirens. A couple more SUVs scurried ahead, blocking each intersection before the procession arrived. Like school crossing guards.
Rebel Nell works with local organizations to hire women transitioning from homelessness and teaches them to craft unique, wearable accessories made from the fallen layers of graffiti that grace the buildings and underpasses of Detroit.
DISCLOSURE: I’m from the Detroit Metro Area. My dad was born and raised in Detroit. We love that stupid city, my family has planted their hearts there, and I’ve bought Rebel Nell jewelry for my wife. It’s neat stuff!
But Rebel Nell isn’t just mining the lead-flecked ruins of Detroit to sell bougie baubles. Through their non-profit arm—Teaching. Empowering. Achieving. (T.E.A.)—Rebel Nell provides all the wrap-around services to empower vulnerable women and families as they transition to a life ofindependence. T.E.A. invests in training, education, skills development, coaching, and mentorship services (including basic employment opportunities), in addition to other support and assistance to these women.
This ain’t giving away fish; it’s teaching folks how to fish, and making sure they’ve got a decent rod and reel to get them started.
The Nelson Foundation provides financial support to individuals and organizations that use art to create opportunities that better our community. (Note conspicuous name similarity—this is something my folks and older sister make happen.) These usually take the form of direct grants and tuition support to underrepresented students in the arts in Michigan.
This Tuesday—November 27, 2018—The Nelson Foundation will be giving up to $5,000 to Rebel Nell/T.E.A. in matching funds.
You give $1, and the Nelson Foundation matches that. Everyone together gives $5,000 and the Nelson Foundation doubles that—boom!, $10,000 goes directly to supporting women and families getting free and building up their communities.
I sorta love things like this, not because it’s the “sound of a Martian sunrise”—because it isn’t. It’s a composition humans made, using an express (and consciously expressed) scheme that’s inspired by a Martian sunrise.
No, I love this art because it sounds pretty and pleases and soothes me, and I love projects like this because artists always and forever operate based on formulae—they just usually aren’t able (or willing) to consciously and explicitly formulate those formula. I like it when we engage with our formulae outright.
Also, I really like Mars. Our relationship with that planet has changed substantially since I was a boy, and that always fills my heart with Hope.
Mick Mulvaney currently heads the White House Office of Management and Budget (which you likely don’t care about), and serves as the interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which you really should care about). Last week he was pretty damned brazen about being totally fine with prioritizing lobbiest/industry wishlists over the welfare of your average American, provided that 1) the average American in question wasn’t from his home state and 2) the lobbiest in question had ponied up (for real; he straight-up said this to a roomful of bankers. Once again, we’ve crossed the line into cartoonish super-villainy.)
Anyway, he’s unfit to serve, both because he’s actively averse to the mission of the agency he’s heading and because he encourages corruption. Here’s what I wrote to my reps; maybe you wanna contact yours today.
subject: Mick Mulvaney is unfit to head OMB/CFPB
I’m writing as one of your constituents, deeply concerned about Mick Mulvaney’s current roles in the Executive Branch.As was widely reported (and, I believe, confirmed by Mulvaney himself) this past week, he has a “pay-for-play” policy for lobbyists and special interests:
“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mulvaney told those gathered at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”(He then went on to urge those gathered to buy influence.)
Not shockingly, those lobbying for payday lenders donated roughy $63,000 to his various campaigns. Earlier this year, in his role as interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mulvaney dropped probes and enforcement actions focused on payday and high-interest lenders.
Given current reporting and his own statements and conflicts of interest, Mick Mulvaney seems generically unfit to head the White House Office of Management and Budget, and nauseatingly unfit to serve as the interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—let alone White House Chief of Staff (his rumored next role).
For that matter, I’m not particularly comfortable seeing a man who so clearly accepts corruption as a “cost of doing business” return to the Legislature—but that’s for the people of South Carolina to sort out, may God have mercy on their souls.
Thank you again for your time and for continuing to fight the Good Fight in D.C.
In the weeks since Charlottesville there’s been a fair bit of “What can we[*] do about hate?” talk—on social media, in NYT and WaPo and Slate op-eds and think pieces, out on the street and around supper tables.As someone in a class of folks disproportionately on the receiving end of the most resent paroxysm of hate, I have a suggestion:
Take “Awesome Baby Steps”
EXAMPLE: Last week the skatepark in my town—the one my son and I go to, the one lots of kids in this area (and, notably, lots of brown kids) use—got hit with motor oil (intended to ruin the concrete for skating) and dozens of swastikas and slurs.
The city, of course, responded in no time, and had it all clean in hours—God bless ’em.
I went to skate there the next and found two things:1) that the park was uncharacteristically busy for an early Saturday morning, all happy families showing resolve; and 2) it was covered in this new chalk graffiti
It’ll sound dumb, but this made me feel better.This, in fact, moved me to tears. Folks punching Nazis in Charlottesville did not move me to tears or make me feel safer.Neither did folks tearing down statues (although I nonetheless applaud that, and more so applaud the many cities who have covered and removed statues in the meantime—because tearing down the participation trophies handed out to white supremacists, nominally honoring traitors, is what you should do after winning a war).
But kids coming out with chalk to make sure I knew that they continued to welcome me in civil society did make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel better in excess of the amount the defacement had made me feel awful—and that slap in the face had left me livid and enraged and absolutely nauseated with a dread so atavistic that I sorta imagine it’s more akin to what a mouse exposed in vacant stubble feels than to any un-fun emotion an employable White man might know. (This isn’t to say that White men don’t know bad times; it’s to say that there is a very specific flavor to being history’s perpetual prey).
Those kids with their chalk, that was an Awesome Baby Step. It didn’t take much—not much money, not much time, not much risk—but it made me feel a great deal better. The pay-off was totally disproportionate.
Again, I know this likely sounds silly. “Dave,” you’re thinking, “You know us! We see you every day when you’re walking your dog; we nod at each other and wave. You know we’re cool with you!”
Listen: You can never, ever presume that the folks targeted by hate can continue to feel confident that you are OK with them being Americans. Don’t argue with me about it being stupid or paranoid or insulting—it’s just a fact of life. In fact, the ability to look at rank-and-file White people with confidence and feel that this person has your back is the first thing to slip. After all, someone voted for Trump, despite all the things he said. Someone buys those Confederate flag stickers, someone goes to those rallies, someone breaks out the spray-paint, someone dials in the bomb threats. It’s just not a possible state of affairs that every White person I see is one of the “Good Guys” and all the bigots are magically somewhere else—but also close enough to trash my skatepark, flyer my streets, drive through my neighborhoods, vote in our elections, etc., etc., etc.
So, here’s one example of an Awesome Baby Step you can almost certainly do almost immediately:
Start being super friendly to people of color every day
Nothing crazy, just always make a point to smile and acknowledge and greet—like, constantly: When you pass on the sidewalk, walk into a building, at the checkout line, whatever.
The best case scenario is that these folks—who may have taken some hateful shit recently—feel less on the outs with the country. The worst case scenario is people think you are just a super friendly person.Either way, none of us think “This person is coming to hurt us.” It’s either a win-win, or just a win.The odds are with you.
(If this seems disjoint—what with me mostly talking about anti-Semitism to this point, and now I’m talking about people of color, and the Venn Diagram of “brown” and “Jewish” in America is frightfully close to just being a pair of tangent circles—just know this: My lived experience, and that of most Jews I know, is that White people who are shitty to people of color are fairly likely to be shitty to Jews, too.)
Another Baby Step in Being Awesome:
When folks get targeted with words of hate, take a moment to counteract that with words of support
EXAMPLE: Our local Jewish Family Services got a bomb threat last Monday.(In case you don’t know JFS, they aren’t an agency specifically offering services to Jewish families, but rather a non-profit founded by Jewish families to offer services in general, sorta returning the favor for the support many of our families received as refugees in the 20th Century). Our local JFS is the primary agency handling refugee resettlement for Syrians here in Ann Arbor. That particular building is also a food pantry for struggling families in general. So, threatening to bomb them isn’t just an attack on Jews: It’s an attack on the poor in general, and immigrants of all sort.It’s a mean, small-hearted, fucked-up thing to do. (Not for nothing, but if you are a White person pissed off that White families are struggling, I can tell you for a fact that JFS is handing out food support to just those exact White families that you, as a White Supremacist, want to see helped. So, really, what the fuck?! Let us feed your people, OK?)
You probably feel bad learning that some jackass felt the need to totally derail a day of JFS trying to help immigrants and poor people (people who, more so than most, can hardly afford to “come back tomorrow; we’re closed because of a bomb threat.”) Maybe you want to bend the arc of the moral universe back toward justice—but don’t know what to do. Try this:
Call JFS, tell them you support what they do, and make a donation—even a tiny one.Multiples of $18 are a traditional sum among Jews (it’s symbolic of Life), but anything is fine—or just voicing your support: 734-769-0209
As a Jew—as one of the JEWS that was told last week that his skatepark and his wife (a “white woman”) were not for him, that he should DIE—I don’t particularly care what is in any of your hearts, because your heart isn’t going to kill me.
It’s your hands that will kill me.And so I’m watching your hands.I am wary, because wariness is what got my grandfather (Z”L) out of Ukraine before he joined his father in a ditch.Wariness is what got my Aunt Lola (Z”L) through Auschwitz and to these shining shores.
Right now, your fingers dialing the phone, your voice, your words, your eye contact and smile are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Use them to take awesome baby steps.
It is 2017:You can take baby steps toward white supremacy, or baby steps away.There’s no standing still anymore—because there never really was.
[*] “We” in this case has disproprtionately—sometimes explicitely, more often implicitely—been White people (and nominally White people, like myself). So I’m addressing that crowd—but let’s be real: These baby steps work for all of us. See also MLK’s 8 Commandments.
The final chapter of my latest novella, Expiration Date, is now available—which means the whole thing is up and ready for you to “binge read” (aka “read.”) I’m not gonna say that it’s the perfect beach read, but for a certain sort of mind (and a certain sort of beach) it is the perfect beach read.
The good folks at Arbor Teas have also gone out of their way to furnish book group support, and teamed up with the Ann Arbor District Library for special Expiration DateSummer Games badges and prizes.
Part of the reason this story took so long to go from this first longhand page to hitting newsstands was because, over the course of the winter that followed that tweet, I was steadily loosing my mind.
Since my adolescence I’ve always had seasonal affect issues, my mood steadily sinking until February—I’m from Michigan; Bob Hicok famously characterizes us as “a people who by February / want to kill the sky for being so gray“—then rebounding with the thaw.Lots of people are like that, especially here; no big.But that year the mood never rebounded; it just sank and sank and sank.I ate more sugar and drank more coffee and skateboarded as much as I could, and soldiered on.But by summer the hole was too deep.Once I’d slam a coffee and another coffee, eat some cookies, skate hard, and be OK.But by July I’d skate so hard I was seeing stars and woozy, and 20 minutes later feel like crap and be desperate to go back to the skatepark.My speech was getting slow and ponderous, my behavior erratic.I got in a fight with my wife over something—I can’t even recall what, something our son had done—and lost my temper.I don’t remember what I said, just that I was in the backyard screaming, my chest collapsing, so angry I was dry-heaving and chanting “I’m sick; I’m sick; I’m sick.”
I didn’t want to be alive any more, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being separate from my children, and the thing running constantly in my head was how I could get careless enough to be killed in an accident where my life insurance would still pay off.Then my family would be on easy street and not burdened by me; my kids would be able to afford college, my wife would own our house outright, and I wouldn’t have to be me anymore, because I wouldn’t have to be at all.And being, it had become apparent, was my core problem.
PRO-TIP: If you need to quickly diagnose depression that has become dangerous, just ask them:“If you could push a button and have never existed at all, would you do it?No pain, no trauma, no one mourning you, just *poof!* and you never were.”
If the answer is “Yeah, sure,” then that person needs to talk to a doctor very, very soon.
At any rate, by the time I had that screaming fit I had already made an appointment to talk to a doctor—something that I’d kept a secret for reasons I can’t really explain any more, because they make no fucking sense; I’d made that appointment under false pretenses, telling my doctor I’d re-injured my ankle—the whole point is that nothing I was doing then made a lot of sense.
But part of that logic had to do with this poisonous, murderous goddamn myth we have that taking meds for your psychiatric illnesses is somehow “weak” or “unnatural” or damages the purity of your artistic fucking whatever.
I wrote 50,000 words of stories while my brain was collapsing that just aren’t much of anything.I sat on revisions of my novella “Where There is Nothing, There is God” (which was in Asimov’s in 2016, and was a finalist for the Asimov’s Award) for a goddamn *year.*I’d sent it around, got feedback from Ann VanderMeer at Tor and C.C. Finlay at F&SF—really good advice, advice that ultimately made it the strong story it was—and then did nothing for a full calendar year.I wrote “There Was a Crooked Man…”, put it through my writing group, got great feedback, and then just sat on it.
And I have no idea why.
Or, more to the point, I know precisely why: Because my brain had drifted from doing a fairly crappy job of managing serotonin to not really bothering to manage it at all.
I started taking 50mg of Sertraline every morning about two years ago (with the ongoing support of a psychiatrist).It’s cheap, I haven’t suffered major side effects, it’s been really good for my personal relationships, and has spared my wife and children having to plan and attend my funeral—and it’s done fuckall to harm my “art”:
This story, “There Was a Crooked Man…”, saw the better part of its revision after I went on meds.The last three pieces I’ve sold—Expiration Date, “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” (forthcoming in F&SF) and “In the Sharing Place” (sold to Asimov’s)—were entirely written on anti-depressants.These latest pieces are among the best work I’ve done, precisely because (*SPOILER ALERT!*) it’s a lot easier to do good work when you aren’t struggling to keep being alive.
If you need help, please get help.Needing psych meds is no more a moral failing than needing a cast when you break your leg, and seeing a therapist isn’t touchy-feely “snowflake” BS any more than seeing a physical therapist after you wreck your car is touchy-feely bullshit.Your brain got injured, you need some medicine and therapy to get it back on track; that’s fine.Go do that thing.Don’t waste ~300 days that you could spend Getting Things Done or hanging out with your kids or having a beer or reading or playing video games.Go get well; if that’s not possible (because, the fact is, it often isn’t), at least get better.
Tunde Olaniran: OMFG, Tunde Olaniran! From the sadly infamous Flint, MI, Tunde Olaniran is superfantastically trans-everything. Go listen to Transgressorand then buy it and then listen to it again and again and again. I seriously absolutely equally love every single track on that album.
Passalacqua: I’m still exploring these guys, both from Detroit; been loving everything I’ve tried by them. This mixtape is a low-risk place to start, but I’m leaning more toward their albums CHURCH and Passalacqua, and the Banglatown EP.
Noname: This poet/rapper from Chicago is awesome, the natural inheritor of the crown Lauren Hill dropped after releasing The Miseducation of Lauren Hill. Noname’s Telefono mixtape is absolutely mandatory listening. Go grab it now! Hell, at the very least go right now and listen to track number one (“Yesterday“) and tell me you don’t absolutely love Noname without reservation. GO!
Looking for that perfect comic-dystopic-romantic sci-fi beach read? You’re in luck: The first three chapters of my novella Expiration Date are now available online (in both slick-as-hella web versions, and some pretty damn fine looking PDFs, perfect for offline, ebook, and tablet reading—just clicking on the “Print” button to open and save the PDF for that chapter. As an example, here’s the chapter 1 PDF.) And don’t worry, this isn’t a cheap tease: All nine chapters will be released, free to read, one each week for the rest of the summer.
(UPDATE: Same great post, now with the correct date for the event: June 28, 7pm)
Good news, everyone:My latest novella—Expiration Date—is available free online this summer!Here’s the official blurb:
This science fiction “till death do we part” story follows young Lizzie and Bram in a relationship on fast-forward. Armed with the knowledge of her scientific discovery, Granny Gin burdens the couple with the question “What would you do, if you knew your end was near?”
First chapter went live early this morning; check it out!New chapters every week.
But wait!There’s more: The official book-release kick-off party is next week:
WHEN: June 28 @ 7pm
WHERE:Ann Arbor District Library Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
WHAT: A reading, some chit-chat, free tea and snackies from the sponsors, Arbor Teas, and free high-fives from me!