2017 / lambkins, we will live

From a strange and delightful boutique hotel on Chambers and West Broadway, with a 19th-century map of lower Manhattan carved into the shower tiles like a strange and unexpected hello, I know you gift: guess what, we lived. Happy almost-New-Year.

I'm getting married in sixteen days. Throw-a-giant-party married, rather than legally married, which we've been for a while now. My wife is right next to me, playing with fountain pen inks -- she acquired this hobby by contagion from some of our other writer friends, and I am showing the first signs of infection -- and god, I am so lucky, and here is one of the ways we lived: this time last year I was terrified we'd lose the ability to be married before we got to ever do it. And so far: so far not yet.

(So far not yet for a lot of things. Because of the good work of our own hands and voices. I have never in my life been as politically conscious as I have been this year, and I don't expect this to stop; I don't want it to. My friend Max says fight for the liberation of all sentient beings, and I want to add to that and say repair the world, the temple can always be undefiled once we kick the bastards out.)

But these small things, too: a woman I love loves me, and we have had our first full 365 days together, one entire trip around the sun, and we still love each other, and we build a life, piece by piece. Her book came out in July. We went to Sweden together in August. I got an agent and sold my book and used part of the advance to pay tuition on a master's degree in urban planning. We acquired tiny plants, and killed some of them, and didn't kill others. We bought ridiculous amazing octagonal black tableware. And furniture. And books. And after a while I stopped having to go back across the Atlantic and it's just been -- us, together, piece by piece. Even while the rest of the world seemed to shatter slowly.

I wrote -- not less than I planned to, though that's also true (my academic monograph is going to be Very Late, sigh), but differently than I planned to. I finished the novel and then I added nearly 30,000 more words to it in a structural edit after it was sold, and that was hard, and that was amazing, and I'm very proud of it, and very glad to have had the help of my editor at Tor, Devi Pillai, to show me what I could do. I wrote a grand total of two short stories. (Sold both, at least.) Wrote a lot of academia. Articles, classwork. Wrote -- 2/3rds of that academic monograph, some of which is really good, some of which is tied irrevocably to how I seem to have slipped out of the spinning wheel of postdoc academia and into a sideways other life where I ... am going to build cities that don't drown, and sometimes write about Byzantium and empires and dead languages, but mostly not.

I am complicatedly good with that slip, right now, in the heart of the city I want to serve. I am angry, and will always be angry, at the way academia did not value my labor enough to pay me a living wage and provide me job security of any kind, but was happy to publish me and invite me to present my work. I am angry at being denied. But I'm good with the choice I made in the face of that denial, which was to find a new way to be useful, and to learn, and to -- oh, to be terrible and dramatic about it, to find something worth serving. This city, New York, which I love. Other cities, too, but here first and here because.

(Also the more disciplines I marinate my brain in, the more layers my fiction seems to develop; god I'm excited about seeing what I can do with these new ways of thinking about narrative.)

In the Union Square Christmas market, last week, Viv -- my wife (I still can't stop saying that) -- found a tiny shop selling reclaimed artifacts from NYC abandoned buildings, made into jewelry. There was a necklace there made from a 1950s subway token -- one from between 1953 and 1961, because it was a NYCTA token, not an MTA one. I spent a lot of time this fall writing about the NYC subway system, for both non-fiction and fictional purposes. I bought the token-necklace. I will wear it. Sometimes the universe tells you you're doing the right thing.

I wasn't sure, last year, that we'd get this far. I wasn't sure that I would. I have not been strong. I have been positively friable. But: hey, darlings, we lived.

And it is a New Year, and this is the best holiday: throw yourself into the future. Hold hands and raise voices. Celebrate with me when we can. Reach.

Two songs to see us out, one for strength and one for joy:

Grace Petrie, They Shall Not Pass - (yes it's late in the day but we can still / save tomorrow if we try)

The Mountain Goats, This Year - (I'm gonna make it through this year / if it kills me)

see you in the morning, universe.

on voting in America, election day 2017

I am on the subway, the 1 line, somewhere under City College. I’ve come up to the city to vote, because I can’t not, right now. I have almost always voted – I was raised in it, taken to the polls with my parents, allowed once to yank the huge lever for my father back when the machines had levers to yank, that satisfying thunk sound – but I have not understood voting as a compulsion before this year. I have not understood voting as a particular form of civic sacrality. A consecration: dear city of my heart, dear my broken and disastrous nation, these fifteen minutes of my life belong to you. I inscribe myself on the shape of your future.

The ‘I Voted!’ stickers in New York State this year have a picture of a suffragette with a megaphone on them. They say, celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage.  Did you know it has been a hundred years? I had somehow, in the violence and the despair and the narrative-breaking horror of the first year of President Donald Trump, entirely forgotten. On the subway standing next to me is a woman who is wearing the same sticker. She is young and dark-haired and startlingly beautiful, deep red mouth and a shearling jacket in grey and black. We see each other’s stickers. We look at each other’s faces. We smile, flicker-fast, mutual recognition. And I think, as sharp and as fast as that stranger’s smile, what would it be like to be celebrating in that other world where my president was a woman?

I think in that world I might not be writing this blog post. I think if I was writing this blog post in that world I would have talked about the bright arc of women reclaiming what we have been denied. I think I would be writing about joy.

I saw a thread on Twitter yesterday about trauma anniversaries. In the past three weeks I have been knife-edge fragile, balanced carefully between being the only one of my friends and colleagues who is willing to profess climate optimism, and being the one of my friends and colleagues who cannot bring herself to imagine a future where climate optimism had time to flourish. I think of all the joys upcoming in my life – my wedding, in January; my academic research being published in late 2018; my novel being published, in 2019; working as a city planner, moving back to New York to do it, in the nebulous world of 2019-2021 – I think of joy, these past three weeks, and I am plunged, Pavlovian, directly into blank despair. Nothing matters, I think. Nothing matters anyhow. None of it will happen. We are all already dead.

This is a trauma response. Intensification of anxiety and irrational patterning of thought is common around the anniversary of trauma.

On Election Day last year I was in Sweden, alone, at first ecstatic and then horrified and then violently ill as the night progressed. In the three weeks after I went a kind of mad. I think a lot of us did. It didn’t help that everyone else had also been broken on the rocks. Looking at the shattered guts of my fellow travelers – we who were just isolated enough from the cruelty and endemic oppression of the United States to believe we were living in a world bending, with effort, towards the light – oh, god, why did I think solidarity would help? Solidarity in being wounded is not a comfort. And yet I have spent this year thinking to myself: I should not have broken, I should not have been so hurt, I should have known better than to live in that other world of my imagination, where I had been safe, and expected talent and determination and the slow march of justice to bring me all that I could desire. I should have known. And I am not yet in the sort of danger that produces real trauma, I think: I may be queer and Jewish, I may have a series of gold coins that my father gave me when I was eighteen in case I needed to ever buy off a border official –

But god, PTSD? Over an election? Really?

This too is a trauma response.

So is – in a fashion – voting. Voting not just with grim determination, but with purpose and with as much joy as I can muster up. One hundred years of women’s suffrage. I inscribe myself into the future of my broken and poisoned nation. A stranger smiled at me on the train and I thought: oh. We are still here.

We are still here.

I rode the subway to Penn Station and I bought a coffee and I drank it fast enough to burn my tongue, and read on my phone an essay written by a Philippino writer, Dimas Ilaw, in Uncanny Magazine. The essay is called “The Shape of the Darkness as it Overtakes Us”. It is not easy to read. It is an inscription, too: it inscribes names and blood and death, and a violence that lives inside the skin of a people and devours. It is a beautiful essay. Ilaw is a magnificent writer. I drank my coffee and tasted cardamom and cream and thought: my broken and poisoned nation. Your broken and poisoned nation, Ilaw. I see you. I hear the names you speak.

Go read what Ilaw wrote. Go here, now. https://uncannymagazine.com/article/shape-darkness-overtakes-us/

Ilaw talks about reading, in their essay. Talks about reading and writing, and how these things are both comfort and fire. They say, close to the end:

Reader, I am writing this for you.

I do not know if you are a Filipino; I do not know if you care about what is happening in the Philippines. I do not know what is happening in your own country or whether those you care about are safe. I don’t know your politics or whom you support or anything about you; all I know is that I have to tell you this.

Your reading, too, is resistance.

I printed my train ticket. I have to go to the campus at which I am currently getting a degree in urban planning, and I need to be in class tonight, so I will travel down the Eastern Seaboard and I will do good work today, and wear this sticker, which is very small and not that sticky anymore even two hours after I put it on. I printed my train ticket and I leaked tears from the corners of my eyelids and smeared turquoise eyeliner down my cheeks. “We will refuse the silence just as we refuse our annihilation,” Ilaw says.

A stranger on a train; her lipstick, her secret shared joy that was also mine.

Throw yourself into the future like a stone skipped on a lake: let that stone be an ostrakon. Inscribe the world you want onto the face of the world we live in.

Voting in America, election day 2017.