For the One Who is Brave

This is a poem I wrote for my wedding, and hid in plain sight. When an unsuspecting guest picked it up, she was instructed to stop everything to read it, which she did. My husband had not read the poem yet, and it was a joy to watch his face as he took it in for the first time.

I wrote this for my wedding, but it applies to this moment of turmoil and uncertainty, and I hope you enjoy it and take courage.

For the One Who is Brave
(a comprehensive exposition of what bravery is)

The first time you are brave,
you probably won’t know it
until it is too late
and your only choice is to keep being brave
or lose—maybe everything.
Later you will learn to know in advance,
so you can opt out early
and not be confronted with the concept of brave to begin with,
Because you will also learn in exactly which ways it is hard
to be brave.
You will know it is lonely, solitary, and scary,
It is lights and eyes pointed at you,
It is interrupting a wedding.
You will know the difference between brave
and the comfort of your bed, a dark room,
and an “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
But what’s important, once you have learned the difference—
when being brave is love taking a risk,
not lightning taking the shortest route to the ground—
is to do it anyway,
to say yes to living,
yes to trusting your gut,
yes to distrusting your depression,
yes to going on a first date,
when you thought first dates were done.
It is naked, standing three feet apart,
and holding off on the impulse to dim the lights,
or move together to touch, instead of
look—holding each other’s gaze,
for seconds then minutes.
It is sharing the parts of you that you’d rather
weren’t there, that you wished were better,
but aren’t yet.
It is “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry.”
Sometimes, even, it’s fighting monsters,
casual and grandiose.
But it is mostly glamorless,
mostly the hard stuff,
mostly the what’s next stuff,
but we still write songs about it,
and read poems under the glare of stage lights,
and perform plays,
and go to movies about all of this
ordinary bravery.
And this is no different,
Except that this is for us,
for future yeses,
for we do,
we will,
we can,
we must,
yes,
yes.

Bougie Career Advice

I just spent 6 months job hunting. A lot of that time was spent on the popular job networking site, LinkedIn. It’s basically Facebook for working professionals. It is somehow not less political. It is full of career advice. Most of this advice isn’t from people I actually know, but I see it because people in my network like or comment.

I’ve compiled all the advice I’ve read over the last 6 months, and I’ve come up with the perfect formula for success: be as privileged as the person giving the advice, and do what you love; lean in; lean out; find a balance; work smarter; work harder; say no; say yes; network; build a brand; be authentic.

If this sounds hollow, it’s because it is, and that is most of the advice LinkedIn has to offer people who are job hunting or seeking career development.

Here is my real advice: form a union in your field to demand better wages and benefits. Advocate for universal healthcare, a wage ratio, high taxes on the rich, a 32-hour work week, and adequate paid family leave for all genders.

Barring that, you will probably spend your life doing jobs that allow you to select only a couple of the above items and making trade-offs on everything else that will be somewhat unsatisfying in a variety of ways. Even if you find a way to do a job you love, you will probably struggle with medical debt, saving for retirement, and having enough money to grow your family. If you are a woman, gender-non-conforming, disabled, or a person of color, you will deal with the added tribulations of workplace and lifeplace discrimination at just about every point, so you might not even have time to think about retirement or a promotion. Instead, you’ll repeatedly prove yourself while someone else takes credit or your contribution goes totally unnoticed. Or you will spend most of your life with no idea how to get past service industry jobs because of sub-par or incomplete education, red-lining, and diminished opportunity for everyone in your professional and social sphere.

These things aren’t about being more hard-working or cracking a secret code; they are about human dignity and social good. When we live in a society where wealth isn’t consolidated into a few billionaires and millionaires, when race, sex, and gender presentation isn’t a deciding factor to career success (let alone life expectancy), then you can talk to me about how I need to work harder or smarter or be more balanced or lean in or out.

Until then, the only code I’m interested in cracking is how to actually level the playing field so everyone has a chance to think about what brings them joy and then go do it.

Housing Court, Yes I Went There

I was hoping this post would be about my unopposed triumph at housing court last week, but court isn’t about winning. As one friend put it, court reliably makes everyone a little happy and a little disappointed.

Why did I got to court?

I was trying to get out of my lease, because my next door neighbor is an AirBnB with a revolving door of late-night parties on the weekends. My building management virtually refused to get involved. I contested that this is a breech of my lease, which has an implied covenant of habitability and quiet enjoyment. In other words, loud parties have kept me from using my apartment as intended (for sleep), so I told my landlords (via the court) they were in breech of the terms of my lease.

After 6 months of this absolute circus, relief is on its way. I will be living elsewhere by March 14th.

Basically, this involved sending a letter citing the specific law I thought they were breaking at least 14 days before rent was due. Then, when property management failed to respond in any way to the letter, I filed an affidavit and paid my rent to the court instead of to my building. It cost $70 to file. My court date was set when I filed for just 2 weeks later.

I represented myself. Lawyers are expensive, and most people file pro se (without a lawyer) for this type of case. I gathered every piece of documentation I could think of from floor plans to emails to phone records. I even included an ultrasound of my unborn child and doctor’s notes from Kevin’s sleep doctor. It was a lot of work, but I knew I needed all of it to make my case.

I wore my most fitted dress, to show off my six-month pregnant belly. I didn’t have to fake my waddle, and I brought a pillow to sit on.

I got nervous. I reviewed my material and talked over every possible angle we’d need to anticipate from the apartment’s lawyers.

Then, it turned out that before appearing before the judge, I’d have to sit down and negotiate with the apartment’s lawyer. If we couldn’t reach a settlement after that, I would present all my documentation and the court referee would decide if it merited a trial. This being my first time in court, I didn’t know that at all and had come prepared to present an argument to a judge.

The negotiation took place in a little room with me, the lawyer, the property manager, and Kevin. The lawyer and I did 99% of the talking. Kevin graciously carried my things. The lawyer started by saying there’s no way a noise complaint case would win in a trial and that the tenant legal hotline (Home Line) we used should stop telling tenants to file Rent Escrow over noise problems. This was gratuitous, and he shouldn’t have said that, knowing I didn’t have counsel. Further, he was lying, but I’ll get to that later. Next, he hammered at my request of 2 months rent abatement. According him, there was no way the property company would agree to return 2 months worth of rent to us. When I held my ground and asked why the property manager’s written promises for fines and eviction had gone nowhere, we moved on to the actual offer.

The offer: Get out of of the lease at no cost. Pay rent for the remaining time we live there with a move out date of March 31.

Everything prior to this offer was intended to make me feel uncertain about my course of action and grateful for the offer once it came. Moving out was always going to be more important than getting money. The lawyer knew that. Also, moving out was the most likely outcome if we had gone to trial. The money was always a long shot. I knew that.

At this point, Kevin and I spoke privately, decided to take the rent abatement off the table for a move out date of March 1.  I knew they’d say no, so I was prepared to accept March 14, the date I requested in the affidavit.

After this, the lawyer and property manger spoke privately. When they came back, they agreed to a March 14 move out date. We filled out some paperwork, submitted it to the court clerk, and waited for our case to be called again.

When it was called, the lawyer and I stood before the judge, who read our settlement agreement, made sure those terms were what both parties agreed to, and dismissed us. I waited in the lobby until the court order was printed. The lawyer went to deal with his other cases that day.

Back to the lawyer lies: Minnesota courts have ruled in favor of tenants regarding noise disturbances. Those cases had documented complaints with failed intervention on the part of the landlord, usually over a the course of many months. While our case didn’t meet every detail of the cases I read about, it fit a lot of them. The main difference was the amount of time a tenant went before filing rent escrow. I couldn’t afford to wait longer as a pregnant person, and I couldn’t deal directly with the problem tenant. Plus courts generally don’t really like AirBnB. All this is to say that trial would have been a bit of a gamble, but probably not to the degree that the lawyer wanted me to think it was.

Additionally, Home Line’s advice to file Rent Escrow was extremely effective insofar as, prior to filing, my landlords were offering terrible solutions that would have required us to downsize while expecting a baby or pay them more money to fix a problem they created. Once I filed, we got what we wanted. They had to pay an expensive lawyer. We had to pay $70. At the end of the day, we are only paying for half a month more in rent than we had originally planned when we started negotiating in January. But the property company paid a lawyer more than we pay in half a month’s rent. They also have to list the apartment, show it, and they still have a disruptive AirBnB to deal with, regardless of who is in our unit.

Maybe there aren’t winners in court, but this time there was definitely a loser, and it wasn’t me.

If you care about tenants rights and access to safe, habitable housing for all, please consider donating to Home Line. Most of the tenants taking on their landlords were dealing with unattended repairs. Home Line operates in Minnesota to help these folks who have fewer resources and worse living conditions.

If you are a tenant with a problem landlord, call Home Line. It is free.

Kevin Forbid!

This is a list of Kevin/Heaven puns. This list is neither exhaustive, nor does it reflect the personality, desires, or sensibilities of all Kevins, namely, my Kevin. It has been a delight to other Kevins and friends to Kevins, so much so, that I hope to one day develop a line of men’s dress shirts with these phrases embroidered on their pockets. In the meantime, enjoy.

  1. Seven Minutes in Kevin
  2. Kevin must be missing an angel
  3. Kevin and Hell
  4. Kevin is for real
  5. All dogs go to Kevin
  6. Just like Kevin
  7. Between Kevin and Earth
  8. Good Kevins!
  9. Kevin on Earth
  10. Thank Kevins!
  11. Kevins to Betsy
  12. Knocking on Kevin’s door
  13. Match made in Kevin
  14. Died and gone to Kevin
  15. Oh, for Kevin’s sake!
  16. Kevin can wait
  17. Kevin-sent
  18. Kevin Help Us
  19. Kevin Forbid
  20. Stairway to Kevin
  21. Pennies from Kevin

Secondhand Islamophobia

My senior year of college, I started attending an Eastern Orthodox church. I loved it. I still do. Eventually, I became Orthodox. Few things have taught me more about Islamophobia than joining a conservative* Christian sect.

Here is a thing that happened: I was getting ready to leave for church. I put one of my pashmina scarves on my head. My parish did not require women to cover their heads, but many women did. I did, especially after I had shaved my head. I loved my hair that short, but I knew it would draw questions and glances at church, and I felt it was more respectful to just cover. It also felt like I was doing something set aside in my life. It felt…holy, something that prepared me to engage in worship. Clothing is powerful.

As I was leaving for church, my roommate told me that the friend who was picking her up for her church had asked about my headscarf (to be clear, it was a scarf that I put on my head). Apparently, it made her uncomfortable. My roommate suggested I wait to put on my scarf until I was off-campus.

I have never cared very much about making people—especially people I have never met—comfortable, so I did not do what she suggested.

This was the first, but not the last, time someone questioned my head-wear to my face. I didn’t realize at the time, but that was Islamophobia. They associated me with Islam for having covered my head. I remember thinking to myself, but I’m not even Muslim. That was my own unaddressed Islamophobia.

Other people have told my how I was anti-feminist, an accusation faced by many Muslim women, more frequently. And the hostility is less masked.

The point is this: Islamophobia is bad for everyone, worse for Muslims. Do some research. Call your local mosque about when you can visit and how to visit respectfully. Listen to Muslim women who talk about head covering and believe them.

I am sorry it took experiencing Islamophobia to realize it was a problem. I know this is something that comes up for many marginalized groups: why didn’t you just believe us? And the answer is that I wasn’t listening to you. I was listening to white guys on TV.

 

*I am using conservative theologically. While some aspects of Orthodoxy may be politically conservative, for the most part, the Orthodox Christians I know are Democrats or, at least, vote that way. Church leadership is carefully apolitical in the United States (with a couple of exceptions), not the case in Russia, Ukraine, and Greece.

Employment Gaps

Employers are not allowed to ask prospective employees an entire myriad of questions in interviews. This includes asking you for your race, religion, genetic information, pregnancy status, marital status or whether you have children. In at will states, employers also cannot ask candidates for a term of commitment (aka–“Are you willing to be in this role for at least two years?”–an absurd question, because, even if you answer in the affirmative, they are under no obligation to employ you for at least two years).

If you get asked these questions in a interview, politely inform the interviewer that such a question is illegal. I am not speaking out of experience, because the only time this has happened to me, I didn’t know I was being asked an illegal question. Ideally, employers don’t ask these questions, but being prepared for if they do is a good idea, especially if you are not white, straight, cis, male, and able bodied. If you have experience calling out illegal questions in an interview, I want to hear about it!

Employers can ask you to explain employment gaps. That means if you were out of work for 6 months or more to care for a child or due to a chronic health issue or other disability, you are asked to disclose that either in an interview or on an application–before you even get in the room.

Should employers be allowed to require you to explain employment gaps? Is it any of their business?

I think the answer is no. Just like the sound of high-heels on the wood floor when orchestras started doing blind auditions, questions about employment gaps surreptitiously disadvantage groups that are already disadvantaged. Mothers (who take a disproportionate amount of time off to raise children) the disabled, and people who have been in prison suffer the most from these questions. So, people who already have a harder time finding and keeping work are being asked in a round-about fashion whether they are par. This does not lead to a fair hiring process, but a deeply biased one.

I know that whether someone has been in prison sounds like it may be of some interest to an employer, and in many states employers can ask about it as early as a job application. This is its own issue, and I know that I cannot fully do it justice here. The long and short of it is that, with rare exception, someone’s completed sentence ought not determine whether they are fit for a job.

Requiring applicants to explain gaps in employment on a job application immediately signals to me that your company is not aware of how various groups are discriminated against in the workplace or are not willing to be part of making a difference.

This practice has proven to be prevalent in my current job search, making me nervous for my future, should I ever develop a disability or take time off to be a parent (I don’t currently think prison is on the table).

Croissants are a Sham and Other Things I Believe Without Evidence

When I moved to France for a year, I had a splendid going away party, for which I attempted to order a large number of croissants from a local bakery. The baker was lovely, but he said he didn’t make croissants in his bakery, because they are hard; they require a lot of time and energy, and don’t always come out very well. Since he was not going to make his own, he didn’t want to sell them. He said the bakeries in the area that did serve croissants almost all purchased their dough from a single source and passed it off as their own–in other words, I’d do just as well buying grocery store croissants as going to any bakery in the area. An industrial bakery was making pretty good (or, at least, extremely consistent) puff pastry, selling it to smaller bakeries, and we all got to eat pretty good croissants as a result.

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A photo of me at my Bon Voyage. Croissants not pictured. I believe they came from our local Rainbow, RIP.

I can’t say I have a reason to disbelieve this information, but it was passed off to me twelve years ago (and memory is finicky), and I have not done any research whatsoever to verify this claim. However, every time I have a sub-par croissant in the Twin Cities, I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.” Also, every time I have a perfect, to a T, honest to goodness, French croissant in the Twin Cities (I have only ever had one at Patisserie 46), I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.”

I sometimes make similar assumptions based on the quality of croissants in other cities, guessing that the croissant racket it more or less the same throughout the country.

I did defer to an expert on this subject for the purpose of this post, and a former Patisserie 46 employee says that they do make their own croissant dough, further enforcing my bias.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

In preparation for my honeymoon, I messaged my host families that I would be visiting, and they asked me what food I wanted to eat. I told them I wanted Belcastel bread, Marcillac wine, and Aligot.

I have a very clear idea of this bread. It comes from a gigantic, round loaf, maybe 2 feet in diameter. I remember my host dad, Pascal, sending me into a bakery to order it on more than one occasion–instructing me on how to order just a section of it, instead of the entire, giant loaf. The crust is so dark, it is nearly black, and thick; thicker than any crust you’d see in the United States. The middle is spongy and nutty in scent and flavor. I imagined its size was due the medieval practice of villages having one communal oven. If you have to share the oven, why not just make one loaf and share it?

The bread Belcastel does not exist. There may be such a bread, as I have described, but it is not called Belcastel. There is no bread, nor any other food (not even wine), in France (or anywhere else) called Belcastel. There is a town by that name, in France, near where I lived.

Memory is finicky.

It appears I may have to abandon my belief that my favorite French bread is called Belcastel. Then again, the bread my host sister found, while similar, was not two feet in diameter and didn’t taste as good as I had remembered. So maybe my favorite French bread is but a memory, and I can accurately say, that Belcastel is still my favorite.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

At summer camp, a counselor once said that mosquitoes are attracted to people who eat bananas more than people who don’t. Friends, I no longer eat bananas. Also, I don’t like bananas, but like, what if she was right? I’m really avoiding two evils, the taste and texture of bananas and mosquito bites. If I do eat a banana, I eat it only when the last mosquito of the summer is dead, and the first mosquito of spring has yet to hatch.

This is convenient-to-believe pseudo-science, rather than something I wholeheartedly believe, but that doesn’t prevent me from acting on it and, occasionally, sharing it with others, despite doing so with caveats, like this.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

We make assumptions and believe things all the time with little to no evidence. While the word of the baker (someone who is probably an authority on the industry he works in) can be presumed to be reasonably correct, my memory of it, or even initial understanding, may be flawed to the point of misrepresenting it to myself and others over the course of more than a decade now. How many people have I told that Belcastel is my favorite French bread? Dozens. While I now understand why, even 12 years ago, my host brother Julien gave me a quizzical look when I told him that was the best bread, I never investigated further at the time. I told myself that I had pronounced it wrong or that it was not very common, but never-ever had I imagined that I simply got the name wrong. Had I never returned to France, I could have gone on wrongly telling everyone about a bread that didn’t exist.

These are inconsequential examples, amusing, even. At worst, they misattribute the work of a few dedicated bakers in the Twin Cities Metro Area, deprive me of a source of potassium, and make me look silly in front of my friends. There are a lot of other things we believe, spread, and act on that are of greater consequence. They might malign entire continents, races, genders, etc. They lead to job discrimination, alienation, and even cruelty from others.

I was able to challenge my belief about Belcastel, because I talked to some of the only people on the planet who would know for sure, a few people in France who live near the town of Belcastel. It’s a lot easier to tell if your socio-political convictions are true–things that are measured regularly, to a great depth. Use google. Read broadly. Meet new people. Ask yourself “does this opinion hurt someone in power or someone disenfranchised?” The answer will tell you a lot about how true it is as well as how harmful or harmless it could be.

Also, eat your bananas.

Things to Watch on TV

I watch too much television, but, lucky for you, I can tell you what’s good.

The Magicians

The Magicians is a Sci-Fi Channel (you can watch it on Netflix or Amazon Prime) series based on a trilogy by Lev Grossman. Some book people will hate me for this, but the show is better. Grossman’s original concept–a world in which magic is real, and so is Narnia, but it’s darker than the children’s books make it out to be–is superb, but it focuses an in ordinate amount of time on one of the least interesting characters, Quentin Coldwater, and is vaguely sexist, homophobic (the gay characters and relationships are portrayed as very sad or embarrassing), and whitewashed. The TV show brings the supporting characters into a new life, making some of the most lovable characters I’ve ever seen on TV. I may have to name a child after Elliott and dress up as Margot for Halloween for the rest of my life. But seriously, can I please be Elliott’s mom, so I can tell him how proud of him I am and mean it?

One Day at a Time

You know how sometimes you are scrolling Netflix, and you are like, “I just need a laugh track sitcom about a Cuban family in LA!” Ok, so you probably have never thought that, and I am 99% grateful that laugh track sitcoms are a thing of the past, but One Day at a Time, a Netflix original, tackles big social issues in a new, yet familiar way. There is plenty of mugging from the indomitable Rita Moreno (best known for her role as Anita in West Side Story) the unflappable abuelita, who dances and talks to her dead husband, and the intrusive landlord has a catch phrase. It makes me think of my childhood TV experiences and how sitcoms were about the typical American family. I just imagine the creators of this saying “what would tv look like if we had had representation 20 years ago?” Anyway, it’s charming, sincere, and there’s a fair amount of Spanish spoken without subtitles, if you want to test yourself or see yourself represented without explanation or excuse. You’ll also recognize a lot of actors from Jane the Virgin.

Sense8

This is a masterful series by the Wachowskis (The Matrix). What if, one day, you became telepathically linked with 7 other individuals around the world. You could understand each other speak, feel each other’s feelings (all of them) and see what they see. The Wachowskis weave a thrilling tale of love, romance, and empathy through this exceptional show, shot on location world wide. I cannot recommend it enough. Also Daryl Hannah. Need I say more? It was cancelled after just two seasons, but Netflix brought it back for a two-hour finale to appease fan outcry about the show ending on a cliffhanger.  I am sad the show was cancelled, but I’m also glad that it didn’t get 5 more seasons and lose the plot.

Midsomer Murders

What? Why? Well, it’s just so…reliable. You know exactly what you are getting, and Hot Fuzz will make more sense to you once you watch all 120 episodes (and counting) of this process crime drama.

Fleabag

I cannot get enough of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of Fleabag (and Crashing–watch that too). So far, it has two seasons on Netflix. The unnamed main character, aka Fleabag, is a wreck, but not in a women’s empowerment romcom circa 2012 kind of way, like, she’s unapologetically horny (sex positive!), but all of her relationships are deeply unhealthy. She is a compulsive liar and thief, and socially awkward to an extreme. But you somehow love her. She vulnerable in a way that makes you root for her. It’s crass, funny, sad, and winning.

 

That’s all for now. You have hours of entertainment ahead of you. Go and enjoy these stories.

I Like Your Body

I like your body;
it’s a good body
,
you said as if in defiance of
years of bad theology too apt to cling
to my skin, acting as filter through which
I made too many decisions,
telling girls too young to know
how to put on a bra or wear a tampon
that they are never subjects, only objects,
so stay atop the tree, and never let yourself become low-hanging fruit.

These conversations turned the air stale
until the implication had insinuated itself into every hallway
and after-church donut:

If you have a body, maybe God doesn’t want you.
Don’t like your body;
it’s a bad body.

And knowing what a lie it is
doesn’t matter as much
as hearing the truth,
the liberating syllables,
of seeing creation
and saying, it is good.

Scarves, Mittens, Hats

One memory of my childhood that has resurfaced as I reacquaint myself with Minnesota winters is of a bin full of winter wears. This contained any winter accessory you could desire–scarves, mittens, hats, gloves, neck warmers, even thick socks. When it was time to bundle up for a romp in the snow, we raided the bin. It was in this way that a single glove whose partner had long since disappeared could linger in our home for years, at the bottom of the bin, only to be used in desperation, when there were no matching gloves that fit. It was a way of holding onto memories, in a way. Plunge your hands into the bottom of the bin and pull out the gloves you wore when someone ran into a fence with the toboggan and split his lip, or the hat from the winter your neighbor plowed the entire neighborhood and dumped all the extra snow in massive piles in the empty lot.

I have been amassing winter clothes. It is cold as tits here–a bad simile, but fun to say. It snowed hard in October and then it felt like a complete month where the temperature never broke 30, and dipped into the low teens. And I know it gets even worse in January. My nose has been mildly bleeding for 6 weeks, because it’s so dry; and my phone battery is shot, because it was not designed for use in these temperatures.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a coat and snow pants for skiing. Also, so I can once again rollick in the snow. I finally have proper winter boots. I had been muddling through with thick socks–which is a pretty good way to do it.

I have to think about ice almost every time I set foot outside. I have not fallen yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Right now, I have no organizing principle around my growing pile of heavy scarves, hats, and gloves, so they are just kind of overflowing in the front closet or the desk chair, where I plop things I don’t have a plan for.

I don’t like holding on to things. I have few tchotchkes. My best possessions are my clothes, books, and, more recently, my sewing machines. Those are what I care about, and those are what take up the most space.

I need a bin though. A tub where all things winter can live for easy access in the cold months, that can be tidily put away when it warms up again. I need a spot where partnerless gloves can cling to me for too many years, and remind me of yesteryear, of the cold, of the magical, confounded snow.