Work work work work work
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I was awake by 4 this morning, earlier than I needed to be for my 6:30 flight. On the way to the airport, I fell asleep in the back of the cab and was on the verge of dozing off as soon as I sat down in 8F (or what I thought was 8F).
I woke up to an older woman in my face, shouting at me and waving her hand, her tennis bracelet flashing under the cabin lights. "You are in MY seat," she said. "You need to get out of my seat."
She wasn't wrong. I had mistakenly sat in her seat, 8D. I quickly moved, as instructed. I apologized, but I couldn't stop some of the hot anger that I felt in my face and chest from escaping. "Thanks for asking me so nicely," I said.
"You're welcome," she replied, laughing, then tried to make a joke by doing her impression of an actual rude person: "Hey bitch, get the hell out of my seat!"
I didn't look at her face again for the rest of the flight.
Instead, for 20 minutes, I stared out the window, crying quietly, trying not to lose it. The sun was rising; it colored the sky beautiful gauzy shades of pink and blue and purple. We passed over Mount St. Helens and I looked down at its massive gaping hole, trying to picture what the bottom looks like. I looked around the plane to see that it was filled almost entirely with older white people, all of whom I was immediately convinced were supporters of the racist, misogynistic autocrat who is about to take over our government.
It's happening, I thought, and I hated it. Feeling devalued, feeling so much distrust. These are feelings I've been working against my whole life.
I've been reading way too much this week (and yet I can't stop reading), but these lines from Jia Tolentino's recent piece in the New Yorker really resonated with me:
"During the Obama Administration, in no small part because of the respect that the First Couple instilled for women and people of color, I had begun to feel, thrillingly, like a person. My freedom no longer seemed a miraculous historical accident; it was my birthright.
But my freedom was always conditional, and perhaps never very important to anyone but me. I’m afraid that the empathy and respect that I have always had to display to survive as a woman of color will never be required from men or from whites. I understand, now, that I mistook a decrease in active interference for progress toward a world in which my personhood was seen as inextricable from everyone else’s."
Lately I am awake each night from roughly 3 to 5 a.m. I sleep deeply during the hours before and after this standing date with darkness, but I continue to wake up at the appointed hour, restless, my mind racing.
The night after the election, I woke up thinking about the book I'm writing. Its two most basic themes are 1) women are powerful and amazing and 2) the diversity of our experiences is paramount. It felt, for a moment, pointless.
Two nights after the election, I woke to one hard, crystalline thought: If it ever came to it, I would send Noli away with Will so they could live as white people. That would be my job as her mother.
As melodramatic as this may sound (and it is certainly not the most extreme idea that has been discussed in our household this last week), the thought didn't carry much emotion. I haven't spent much more time thinking about it. It was just something that I understood and told myself, and then I went back to sleep.
I'm in Palm Springs now. I have a room with a desk, a big bed, a hot tub outside my door, and four full days by myself. I am here to work. Writing, ultimately, requires uninterrupted hours of solitude, which has been very difficult to come by since I turned a good portion of my body and mind over to my child. With Will's encouragement (and airline miles), I planned this trip before election day, and I've spent every day since then wondering if I should cancel because the thought of being away from my family scared me a little.
I like being by myself, at least I always have. I still think this is true, it's just that the opportunities to test it out are now almost nonexistent. Today I found myself unmoored, though if I'm being honest my biggest fear is that not even Will or Noli would be enough of a balm for what I am feeling. I've made calls to my elected officials and we're starting a giving circle with friends to help support some grassroots organizations. Right now it is much easier to do this sort of outside work than to deal with what is happening inside me.
People ask me how work is going, and I am not sure what to tell them. I have been saying that, metaphorically, writing a book requires wandering out into a big wilderness, getting lost, then trusting that, by looking at everything, you can find your bearings and, if not a way out, a way through. (Btw, no one seems that interested in this metaphor, but it feels true to me.)
This afternoon I borrowed one of the hotel's cruiser bikes and set out in search of a grocery store on the south side of town, Ralph's, where I could buy white wine and La Croix. I find cruisers strange and unwieldy--like I am a ballet dancer with my arms in second position trying to steer a bike, or like I am somehow swollen. Sandra, the woman working at the hotel, had obviously selected this particular bike for me because I am short and the seat appeared to be in the lowest possible position. Well, it was not low enough and I had to pedal all over town on my tippy toes, which was awkward. (Also, I get that cruisers are "quaint" and "cool" in the "hip" boutique hotel areas Palm Springs, but most of this city is actually desert sprawl made of giant roads with fast moving vehicles where cruisers are very impractical!)
Riding on a slightly janky vehicle on the streets of a strange city is not an unfamiliar feeling. As I set off, I started thinking about how during the year that Will and I spent traveling around the world, we did it often. (It was also during this time that I realized, to my surprise, that as much as I liked being alone I would never get tired of him.) The most memorable time was in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar), where our bicycles were in such bad shape that my chain, which was nearly rusted through, popped off multiple times during the day. Miraculously, each time, within minutes, a group of locals would rush out into the street, Nascar pit crew style, and fix it. Like the most of the country's infrastructure, which languished in isolation under authoritarian regimes, the bicycles were in a state of functional disrepair, partially fixed, over and over again, with old, dull tools. Communicating with these generous people wasn't exactly easy, but we all did our best for a few minutes. Then we'd thank them profusely and they'd send us on our way. After a block, I'd look back over my shoulder and they'd still be standing there, smiling and waving.
Back on the streets of Palm Springs, a Jeep came really close to hitting me, a construction worker cat called me from his pickup truck, and I almost got doored by a guy getting out of a Cadillac. There are a lot of old white people in this town. I got turned around, couldn't figure out what Google maps was telling me to do, and started crying in front of a pawn shop. I ditched the Ralph's mission and headed towards an Albertson's closer to my hotel, which added a couple of extra miles and hours to my afternoon. I took it slow and started composing this letter in my head.
I rode back to the hotel, the case of La Croix in my front basket making it that much harder to steer the cruiser. It was dusk, the temperature was starting to drop, and the sky took on some of the same cotton candy tones I had seen from the plane window earlier this morning.
I am lost, and I suspect I will feel this way for some time. I'm just going to keep working.
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