The smartest thing

The smartest thing I did on Tuesday was read poems by Tomas Tranströmer. It was an accident that kept me breathing.

The smartest thing I did this morning was read poems by Jean Valentine. Here’s one:




Friend I need your hand every morning

but anger and beauty and hope

these roses make one rose.


Friend I need a hand every evening

but anger and hope and beauty

are three roses

that make one rose.


Let’s fix our bed it’s in splinters

and I want to stay all year.


Let’s fix our bed it’s in splinters

and I want to stay all year.


Did you hear what that woman on Grafton Street was saying?


You won’t be killed today.

We don’t even know we’re born.


Jenna and Wesley

I just need you to know that I love this podcast, hosted by Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, two smart people with interesting friends, expansive minds, and genuine friend-chemistry between them.

They’re not afraid to be goofy, but there’s a minimum of in-jokey pod-chatter. They’re not afraid to get deeply analytical, but they don’t showboat. And they’re not afraid to be emotional, period. (They were audibly distraught in their first post-election session–and then they visited the amazing Margo Jefferson, who talked about not wanting to leave her apartment the day after the election “because I didn’t want to behave.”)

Jenna and Wesley also write for the Times–thoughtful, humane, complicated writing about culture and technology and politics and so on. They’ll make you proud to have a working brain and a beating heart.

I believe that children are the future, part XXIII

We were unable to attend the Women’s March on Washington, but my daughter wanted to make a sign anyway. The sign says: “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”

On a completely unrelated note, we were discussing creative ways to curse someone, and my son suggested “dirty slimy lice exoskeleton.”

Me? I’m the dolphin who shot him

Much of the humor in my household is based on intentional mis-hearings or re-orderings of phrases.

So, for example, we were listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, and Aaron Burr was telling Hamilton that “fools who run their mouths off wind up dead,” and my kids translated it as “fools who cuddle penguins wind up dead.”

Which makes more sense than the original line, especially if you listen closely to the soundtrack while spinning it backwards on your turntable.

Two quotes from the Times Style Magazine

The first is from Paula Cooper, the pioneering gallery owner. She’s describing a snapshot of her sitting in a wicker chair on a porch: “My husband Jack and I spend weekends in Bellport. He owns heirloom turkeys with Isabella Rossellini, who has an incredible farm raising local produce and rare animals.”

“He owns heirloom turkeys with Isabella Rossellini.” I mean: Don’t we all? But enough of my eye-rolling! Cooper is a heroine.

The second is from Simone de Beauvoir, in an essay by Emily Witt. Beauvoir was for many years an avid (in the sense of “mad”) solo hiker. She went on epic hikes in her singular fashion, wearing espadrilles and carrying bananas in a picnic basket. She wrote about her “particular brand of optimism”: “instead of adapting my schemes to reality I pursued them in the teeth of circumstances, regarding hard facts as something merely peripheral.”

I’m skittish these days about the idea of living without facts, but I admire the underlying bravery of her position. And I love her espadrilles.

The house on 52 with the flag out front

On a road leading out of town there’s a house that for many years had a Confederate flag hanging out front. Actually, the flag was on a pole within the grounds of the house, behind a high, tightly bound picket fence, the kind of fence you might have seen around an early Puritan settlement. The residents of the house had also posted a large sign that said: “Loud bikes save lives!”

Not so long ago, the flag came down. A woman in town–a woman who works for social justice and is visibly and vocally liberal–was so pleased to see this that she baked a batch of brownies and went to the house and knocked on the door. And was admitted inside. And offered her brownies as a sign of her gratitude. And talked for an hour with people who had been, for years, both neighbors and strangers.

When she asked the man of the house what the flag had meant to him, he said that it had been through two wars. Which wars? The world wars, he said, in the 1800s. He also said that he liked The Dukes of Hazzard. He was being sincere.

People of Earth: Come to know your history. Come to know your neighbors.

Morning routine

This morning my son was lolling on the sofa in his pajamas after breakfast, as he often does. He asked aloud (to no one) where his clothes were, as he often does. I fetched an outfit from his dresser upstairs, as I often do, I’m sorry to say. I set the outfit on the sofa, and he said, in a voice that was both sincere and slightly exaggerated, “Thank you, Dada. That’s very encouraging.” And I laughed at his general nuttiness, as I often do.

Ponies will be ponies

At camp today, my seven-year-old son wore a swim shirt with a lavish scene from My Little Pony on the front. He loves this shirt. He gasped–really gasped with pleasure–when it arrived in the mail.

By the way, my son does not think of himself as a Bronie. He loathes stereotypes (the most dismissive thing he can say about something is that it’s “stereotypical”), so he’d never want to be part of a group like that, which, although it stands in opposition to a certain stereotype, has by now become a stereotype itself.

Anyway. This was a farm camp, run by–and appealing to–organic, progressive people. Nevertheless, as soon as my son put on the shirt, another boy ran over and pointed at it and laughed and called other kids to come over and laugh at it too.

I don’t have anything rueful or wise to say about this. My daughter defended her brother, and life went on. What I want, really, is for my son to be not “my son,” not a Bronie, not a stereotype, but just the person he is, liking what he likes, taking pleasure in the sight of ponies being ponies.

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