It’s been a tense few weeks here in Portland: the owners of a nascent burrito food cart were shamed and shunned into shuttering their business after the um, enterprising, women bragged about nabbing “authentic” tortilla recipes from cooks and business owners down south of the border. A known white supremacist slashed the throats of three men attempting to protect two women of color from harassment while riding public transportation, and the carnage left two men dead and an entire community gaping in horror. A band of fascists landed in the city just a week later to stage an alt-right rally in support of I don’t even know what – the ascendancy of white supremacy? the destructive executive mandates of an orange menace? – and they demanded (and got) an armed wall of protection from the police so that they might shout their hate unchecked while a sea of horrified counter-protesters looked on.
Last Saturday, while out with Gabi on our afternoon neighborhood constitutional, I happened upon a garage sale. The sale was of outdoor stuff, mostly, spread out over the grassy front lawn of a classic, recently refurbished Portland home: a rack of musty, well-loved Patagonia jackets and vests; a jaunty collection of straw hats; a smattering of high-end camera bags and camping gear.
These items, surely, had a wealth of stories woven into their textiles. Curious, I got to talking with the woman sitting out front. As her cast-off items would suggest, she was sporty and laid back, and we had one of those rambling, intense conversations that inexplicably jumps camps from the mundane to the deep within a matter of seconds.
Last week, I visited the dentist. It was a rather mundane undertaking: a pleasant hygienist with a difficult-to-place accent cleaned my teeth, and as he did so, he entertained me by musing on a variety of topics: Portland’s increasingly untenable traffic “(The whole city is a highway!”), tips for remembering to floss (“Keep your floss in the shower!”) and praise for my good oral health (“These are very healthy teeth!”).
Not that I can take much credit for that last one — good teeth, like so many other things, are often a genetic lark. In my 20s, I didn’t have consistent access to health insurance, so I only had my teeth cleaned every few years. Also, I smoked. (Like, a lot.) Also, I didn’t floss much. (Like, ever.) Also, I drank gallons and gallons of black tea. But the compliment gave me a pleasant sense of moral right-ness, as did my conversation with the dentist after my teeth were picked and cleaned and fluoridated to a pristine and pearly white.
1. “Here be dragons.”
It’s the enigmatic message of warning scrawled across the Southeast Asian coastline on one of the oldest globes in know existence. Look closely at this one-dimensional reproduction, and you’ll see it:
Housed in modern times at the New York Public Library, the Hunt-Lenox Globe represents one of humanity’s first attempts at creating a spherical representation of our shared planetary home. The globe itself is tiny — a mere five inches in diameter — and it was manufactured circa 1510, just after the “discovery” of the New World.
Some 600 years later, historians still argue spiritedly over the colorfully cryptic message, and what its (unknown) author might have meant by it.
Probably, it served to remind explorers of the peril of their undertakings, of the fact that some parts of the world remained abidingly uncharted, and therefore, deeply dangerous.
What we know for sure ends here and goes no further, it seems to say. Beyond this are things we haven’t yet imagined, and they might well be beastly to behold.
The globe portrays North and South America as large scatterings of individual islands, and Southeast Asia as a still-wilder, as-yet-unconquered corner of the earth — and, yes, back then, in the minds of many, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, the earth still had actual corners.
“If you want to destroy my sweater/
pull this thread as I walk away /
Watch me unravel /
I’ll soon be naked …”
Have you ever wished, at some point over these past three weeks (yes, it’s only been three, and yes, I know that is hard to believe), that you might through some trick of transmographic teleportation be permitted to live, just for a few minutes, as an insect on the wall of the Oval Office, just watching this bizarre moment unfold?
To those of my fellow Americans who will check Mr. Trump’s name on their ballots this fall: Please stand up and make yourselves known.
“The difference between a non-suicide and an ex-suicide leaving the house for work, at eight o’clock on an ordinary morning:
The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.
The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn’t have to.”
-Walker Percy, “Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book”
I often fantasize about the jobs I’d hold in alternate realities. Singer. Hair stylist. Travel Agent. I can’t sing a song that anybody would ever really say was worth listening to, and my bangs are terminally crooked despite the fact that I’ve been hacking them off myself for two decades now, but I do still confidently maintain that I’d make a fantastic travel agent. Continue reading
I have seen a good bit of the world, which for some reason has cultivated in others the mistaken impression that I might be a good source of counsel when it comes time to pack for a trip.
Let me assure each of you that this is not the case.
What’s in a name? Really, maybe, not very much at all.
The trouble started the way so many kinds of trouble do these days – with an Internet meme.
I logged on to my Twitter feed a few months back, bored, and noticed that something called “heelconcept” was trending.
“I dropped out of college because I knew more than my professors did.”
“I often have to explain things to others because I just grasp stuff more quickly than most people do.”
“I often read books and think to myself, ‘I could have written that.’”
Have you ever had a little cut in your mouth that you couldn’t stop chewing on?
Poking at, worrying over, jabbing and stabbing against with your tongue, endlessly, compulsively? Even though it hurt, even though you knew all that biting was only prolonging the suffering? Didn’t you feel just inexplicably, irresistibly compelled to mess with it, even if doing so kept it from healing over?
I have composed iterations of this little essay in my head at least a hundred times over the past month, but somehow, I haven’t been able to bring myself to sit down and write it out loud. To make it real. I feel, now, that it is finally time to come clean.
For me, writer’s block is a bodily sensation – Sometimes, I literally cannot physically bring myself to sit down in front of my computer and release the words that are tangled up inside of me. I want to. I am loath to. I need to. But I just … can’t. Like, at all.