Thanks for ruining our vices

“So it’s like A Modest Proposal?” my husband asked me as we sweated side by side on a couple of Planet Fitness elliptical machines this morning.

“Eh, I’m not even proposing anything,” I said. “I’m just… making a joke. Kind of.”

While I appreciated the comparison to old Jon Swift, I couldn’t describe the two-minute read I posted on Medium last night as an elegant satire, a send-up of our times, or a grand hyperbole. It’s really just an odd insight I stumbled on.

NRA story on Medium

Click for the full story!

After writing it, I had a similar thought about smoking. Sure, tobacco’s never been good for you, but when I used to hear about badass old Native Americans with their ceremonial pipes, or see James Dean with that unfiltered Chesterfield pressed between his lips, I would think COOL.

Yankton Sioux Red Lodge ceremonial pipe James Dean smoking

Now, decades into big tobacco’s relentless pushery and indescribably evil chemical additions to an already junky product, smoking can’t be cool anymore. It can’t be a casual pastime. It can’t be fun. It just reeks of death.

Same with guns. NRA and big tobacco: thanks for nothing!!

The far-reaching effects of police misconduct

New York Police Department Times Square NYC photo credit Meriç Dağlı

When I first heard about BuzzFeed News’s exposé of NYPD misconduct from the new owner of Bushwick Daily, I had two thoughts almost simultaneously:

  • Sounds like a scoop! Way to go, investigative reporters.
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    and
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  • But everyone knows there’s police misconduct. What are they going to reveal that’s new?

For better and worse, the answer is plenty.

Ace reporters Kendall Taggart and Mike Hayes published “Secret NYPD Files: Officers Can Lie And Brutally Beat People — And Still Keep Their Jobs” two days ago. (And I was pleased to hear them with Brian Lehrer on WNYC yesterday. My hat’s off to all of you!)

They found:

  • Some NYPD employees who have been allowed to stay on the force after repeatedly lying in court have sent innocent people to prison—and kept guilty people from doing time.
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  • New York taxpayers foot the bill to settle accusations against errant officers who continue to serve, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars per officer—on top of paying some of them six-figure salaries.
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  • The secrecy and subjectivity of NYPD misconduct trials mean life-altering case decisions can easily be made based on the simple personal prejudice of one police commissioner—and cannot be challenged.

Today, I was pleased to share a summary of Taggart and Hayes’s findings and some information about alleged misconduct in Brooklyn’s 83rd Precinct with the Bushwick Daily community. You can read the post here.

A brush with vegan greatness

Last night, Arthur and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a day early—because even vegetarian restaurants are booked hella far ahead for V-Day in Brooklyn!

We settled on Modern Love in Williamsburg, purveyors of “swanky vegan comfort food.” Not only did this restaurant’s name scream Valentine’s Day, but our excellent realtor and friend Alison McQueen had given us a Modern Love gift card to say congrats after we closed on our house last year (thanks again, Alison!). The stars seemed to be aligning.

Vegan cheese plate with fruit, cocktail, and flower

Part 1: Into the (nut cheese) void*

We walked in to find the place abuzz with well-dressed veg-heads.

We opened our menus and found approximately two dozen mouthwatering choices.

And then, We Saw Her.

“Hey—by the host stand in the black overalls. Do you think that’s…?” Arthur asked me.

“Holy crikey! Maybe!” I replied, craning my neck.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the brains (and at least some of the brawn) behind such legendary acts of veganism as Post Punk KitchenVeganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World—as well as Modern Love, which also has an Omaha location (of course).

Woman with glasses holding a plate of food in a restaurant

Our lady in the flesh!

We were giddily discussing the possible implications of sharing a thousand-square-foot space with this mythical woman when the colorful fruit and cheese plate pictured above was set down on our table by none other than… the Notorious ICM herself!

While we blinked alternately at the plate and up at her, she explained each cheese and cracker variety to us (including their homemade Cheez-Its). When she was done, I ventured:

“Um, are we having a celebrity sighting right now?”

She looked at us, and with delicious deadpan, said:

“Yup, I’m Sarah Silverman.”

Then she walked back to the kitchen.

Isa, we love you even more now.

 

*Sorry, folks—that’s an inside joke with the Arthur-man. Happy Valentine’s, my sweet!

Faces of Work

In my experience, what we might call the architecture of work is not the same for freelancers as it is for full-time employees of organizations. The idea—and the doing—of work hang differently on a sole proprietor’s frame than they do on a company’s. For one thing, when you’re on your own, it’s your job to build the frame itself—as well as to make whatever you’re going to fill in with!

Powersuit Making Workshop at the Wassaic Art Festival 2012

Maybe you’ll make a powersuit!

When you start out to work for yourself, there is no path or plan ahead of you. There is no preexisting ladder to climb or maze to figure out: you have to make your own goals and your own route to reach them. There are no preordained titles to aspire to: you have to decide what you want to be called. There are no rules to chafe against: if the company culture sucks at You LLC, it’s YOU who has to change!

Woman standing in a green garden with a rake

Sarah, YOU should never change! You’re great.

These and many other aspects of work have been on my mind lately. Simultaneously, I’ve recently found myself captivated by others’ musings on work. Rather than try to deduce whether the chicken or the egg came first, I’ll just share two perspectives that have most recently tugged at my brain-strings.

Blonde woman with sewing machine

Another Sarah tugs at another type of strings.

  • “The Spirit of Work” by Marie Corelli. The variously regarded English novelist and mystic touches on lots of potent themes in this fin de siècle essay, such as the attitude of the worker determining the quality of the work; the weirdness of humans trying to elevate and separate themselves from the brilliant workings of nature; the notion that the having of love makes anything easy and the lack of it makes anything hard; the recommendation that everyone should learn a trade as part of their education; the misuse of the word “common” as an insult; and the fact that “‘gentlemen’ are not made by position, but by conduct.”
     
    Man holding cup on roof

    Neil T is a gentleman whether he’s working or working it

    Among many other gems (and some hyperbole I am actually not down with, such as basically suggesting that people never take a day off), Corelli also invokes Goethe, whose “inspiring lines should animate the mind and brace the energies of every worker :—.

    ‘Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute,
    Whatever you can do, or dream you can—begin it;
    Boldness has genius, power, magic in it;
    Only engage,—and then the mind grows heated;
    Begin!—and then the work will be completed.’ ”

    If that doesn’t get you jazzed to do something, perhaps you would feel more at home in the company of the “toadies, time-servers, and hypocrites of the community” whom Corelli depicts as crawling “before a trumpery ‘title’ as abjectly as a beaten cur trails its body along in the dust under the whip of its master.” Dang, girl! Sing it. Nice use of “trumpery,” too.

    Woman opening bottle of wine while camping

    Cynthia has never committed trumpery in her life.

  • Jerry Seinfeld interviewed by David Remnick. A century or so after Corelli, top-tier funny guy Seinfeld dropped such interesting insights about work during this exchange that I listened to it all the way through twice. When Remnick asked him what made him think he could be a comedian, he said:
    .
     ………“The truth is, I really didn’t think that I could. And I didn’t really care whether I could or I couldn’t. I just got to this point where I was so in love with it that I just decided, ‘What’s the difference?’ It seemed much more important to me to do the thing you want to do than success or failure.
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    ……….“This is 1975, you know, and we were still [in] a little bit of the vapors of the ’60s, where you did what you believed in. It wasn’t a ‘success’ culture, it was more of a ‘soul’ culture, I think.”
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    Soul culture!! Who among my fellow Gen X’ers—we who are coming to terms with our vocational destinies while wading through a waist-deep culture-sea frothy with vocoded singing, native advertising, and a bank storefront in every formerly vacant lot—does not envy this description of someone’s adolescent zeitgeist?!

    Man with headphones and laptop in easy chair

    Drew’s productions might occasionally involve a vocoder, but they remain excellent.

    A bit later, Remnick asked Seinfeld how long it takes him to prepare an hour-long stand-up show. He replied:

     ………“That’s like asking God how much time goes into an oak tree. He says, ‘I don’t know. I do it every day, I do it all day. I don’t know, I plant the tree, it grows, eventually it’s an oak tree, who the hell cares? It’s all I can do. I don’t know.'”

I think all of us—freelancers or employees, plumbers or pundits—do well to meditate on work and our relationship with it from time to time. Whether it’s been hunting our food to eat, breaking rocks in the hot sun to appease the man, or selling insurance to yacht owners, people have always spent lots of our time working. Let’s do what we can to make it time well spent.

Woman standing in office Lichtenstein

Yours truly working hard—or hardly working?!—in arts administration circa 2006.

2017: Greatest Hits

Is there a five-second rule equivalent for saying, “Happy New Year”? Like, is it still reasonable to say it on January 13? I guess I’ll find out.

Happy New Year, readers! Let’s celebrate the arrival of 2018 by kissing 2017 goodbye in style: with my annual end-of-year newsletter!

I Peace NY sign in lights

Hark! The holidays!

This year, I got into…

  • Women with guns
  • The art(s) of community development
  • Fighting plastic waste in oceans
  • The future of work
  • Audio engineering day camps for girls
  • Ridiculous party games
  • A 26′ moving truck… for 2,000 miles

If this year-end-stravaganza didn’t already hit your inbox, you can peep it here, and even sign up to get one next year!

Peace out—or really, peace in! I’m psyched to be starting 2018 with you.

Remembering Suzanne: An elegy in correspondence

The last email exchange I had with Suzanne Davenport—leader of NYC’s Violin Femmes, instructor at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, and committed tapir conservation enthusiast—was in May of this year. In it, she wrote of a recent tapir benefit concert of hers that I had apologized for missing:

Don’t worry about the missed event. It was absolutely amazing though, I will say, great music, 3 original tapir songs, although not performed by tapirs but fellow artists, we had a surprise guest from Japan who played monk-punk in his traditional Japanese monk outfit and his basket over his head, we had super cute hand knitted tapirs and hand printed tapir shirts – we left few stones unturned and whipped everyone into a tapir frenzy. It went so far that there were knitted Tapir Kidnappings and ransom notes! (Happy ending). All in all totally awesome.

Needless to say, I was pretty crazy about this woman.

Woman standing with tapir animal

Suzanne with a tapir, her favorite

On January 2 of this year, we commiserated about the results of the presidential election. She wrote:

No words. Only 😱😱😱. Even more so I hope to see you in 2017 – we have to stick together!!!

In 2016, when I lamented missing another of her gigs, she replied warmly:

It is so easy to grow apart in the big city, and the Femmes have taken a little bit a different path the last year, but tonight we just rocked it and I think we are back on the prawl (isn’t that a word? The thing big cats do, what’s that called). I am getting better with social media, but still a far cry from what’s possible – it does help to at least FEEL in touch.

In 2015, when I told her I’d moved in with Arthur, she replied hilariously:

April, congratulations to the moving in with the beloved! For me of course it means I can’t send you any cards as I don’t know your address. But honestly, I don’t write that often – you certainly get more out of moving.

I first met Suzanne five years ago through our mutual friend Anya, who also played in the Violin Femmes. In 2014, I wrote about them for Brokelyn. Suzanne had been a professional performing musician in her native Germany, making a good living. When she moved to NYC in 2002, she founded the Violin Femmes to give adult musicians (mostly women over 40) a venue for performing publicly (usually in the subway and on street corners), no matter their level. Why did this pro devote so much time and energy to a music gig that was poised to pay just above diddly squat?

I just really love to give these guys this opportunity to play music with each other. It’s a very democratic band, it’s not “my band;” everybody has the same say in what we do. But on a very small level, I feel that starting and maintaining it has been my contribution to adult music education. It gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction. It’s my favorite thing I do musically.

Women playing the violin dressed like Santa

The Violin Femmes rock the NYC subway one fine holiday (Suzanne on the far left)

Suzanne approved of the Brokelyn story, writing to me:

April, that is amazing! You will make us famous.

After that, Suzanne and I got to sending each other the occasional picture postcard or small package containing items such as (according to my journal) an “acorn holly cluster” and sheet music for the Violent Femmes song “Blister in the Sun.” In response to one of her gift boxes, it appears I replied, in part: “Awesome dream your friend had about the golden glasses, though I’m with you that the gift of fun could be just as valuable.” The fact that I can’t remember exactly what delighting volley of Suzanne’s I was replying to is evidence of just how rich the fruits of her friendship were.

Last month, on November 10, Suzanne died suddenly and completely unexpectedly of a heart attack.

While I know she was too cool to have been serious about wanting to get famous, Suzanne did achieve celebrity status in the minds and hearts of her students, collaborators, friends, family members, and everyone she impressed on the streets of New York City with her instant generosity, super-friendly take-no-shit vibe, and of course her musical skill—which were all evident even (or maybe especially) when she was wearing a burlap sack and a Santa hat.

Suzanne’s husband Scott (who, if I remember right, she met at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen over a pack of Pall Malls some years ago), set up this wonderful memorial page for her. When I tied the knot last year, she wrote to me:

I thought I’d never get married and it’s one of the best things I have done. 💝

Of course, all of this is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. I wasn’t even a close friend of Suzanne’s, and still she maintained a thoughtful and enchanting correspondence with me for years. I never felt she had forgotten about me, or wouldn’t be happy to see me at her next show or for a sit-down pint-and-chat. Especially in the ‘big city,’ cultivating such an easy familiarity over time and distance is rare. But Suzanne was rare.

My heart goes out to Scott and everyone else who knew and loved Suzanne. I think she would be glad to know that she’s given us all so many good experiences and lessons. In a frenetic and selfish world, she modeled how to stick together—namely, by showing up, in every way, every time. Now, she reminds us to regard our lives and relationships as the miraculous and chancy gifts they are. Thank you, Suzanne. Your genius will live on.

One weird trick to help preserve freedom of the press

Unlike the Greater Internet, I can’t recommend any remedies for tooth whitening, belly fat reduction, or “crepey” skin, but I can tell you…

THESE crepes are where it’s at!!

Vegan buckwheat crepes by Sweet Potato Soul.jpg

Delicious vegan buckwheat crepes — thanks to *Sweet Potato Soul!

Okay, I can also tell you the following, arguably more important stuff:

  • The internet is useful for a lot of things beside accessing dubious medical advice—such as reading the news!
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  • If you’ve been availing yourself of the latter capability at any point this year, you may have noticed (among approximately one billion other disturbing developments) that Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, is threatening to roll back Obama-era regulations that keep corporations from controlling who sees what on the internet. (At least one other FCC commissioner has her head screwed on right, thank god—see the righteous Mignon Clyburn‘s very sensible fact sheet on this matter.)
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  • Congress may still be able to sway the FCC away from turning the internet into one giant Comcast ad before they vote on the rollback on December 14 [fingers-crossed emoji].
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  • Even if they FCC does vote to kill net neutrality now, Congress could still pass legislation that protects Americans’ equal access to information (yay), instead of suppressing it for corporate benefit (boo).
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  • The divine Emily Ellsworth says sending paper letters to our reps’ district offices is second to phone calls in terms of effectiveness (but better than sending a paper letter to their DC address, emailing them, or pinging them on social media). I’m a writer to the core, so while I’m always trying to get amped to make a call, I usually wind up writing, printing, and shipping when I want to speak up (which is has been at least once a week this year, thanks to my babes at Shall Not Perish!).
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  • Case in point: THIS LETTER! Arthur and I drafted it last weekend while chilling at his mom’s house for Thanksgiving, and we purposefully made it general enough to send to any senator in the country.
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  • That’s where you come in! Cue up your entrance music, copy n paste our letter into your word processor of choice, edit the highlighted parts (and any other parts you want), and send it off! Here’s a list of every senator’s address, courtesy of the aforementioned Shall Not Perish.
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  • If you want to be a real free speech superstar, you can also…

    +   cc Ajit Pai, Chairman, and send the letter to:
    Federal Communications Commission
    445 12th Street SW
    Washington, DC 20554

    +   Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, ask to be connected to your Senators’ offices, and ask them to urge the FCC to vote NO on this awful plan!
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    +   Tell me you did one of these things so we can at least know we’re together in this, whatever happens :)

Thanks, fellow Americans! Let’s flood those mailboxes (and phone lines) this coming week and let ’em know we’ll stop reading about how to fix fatigue with one weird trick when we damn well please, not when AT&T says so.

(Do check out Jenné Claiborne’s *Sweet Potato Soul, too. Happiness on a plate!)

Making peace with the sponsored post

Given my historic predilection for writing about (allegedly) unsexy topics such as congestion pricing, volunteering in retirement, and participatory urban development, it’s no wonder that when Katarina “Don’t Wait for Permission to be Awesome” Hybenova, founder of Bushwick Daily, needs someone to write a sponsored post about a local credit union or end-of-life planning, she rings my bell.

Think unsexy thoughts Simpsons Barney

“Think unsexy thoughts… Think unsexy thoughts…”

I will admit that the idea of writing sponsored articles sat a little uneasily with me at first, because I’m generally angered and saddened by advertising’s incessant and ever-deepening march into every aspect our lives. That said!, if boss little publications like Bushwick Daily are to keep the lights on (and I sure hope they do), someone’s got to foot the bill. If that boils down to a choice between giving readers free access to the site in exchange for throwing some sidebar ads and commissioned stories into the mix, or making readers pay individually to fund BD‘s work, I’ll go with the former.

You know what, though? In this case, it’s not even as doom-and-gloom as that. The kinds of organizations that support BD are pretty much the best kinds of organizations: they’re grassroots neighborhood staples, self-made small businesses, international nonprofits—even startups on a mission to make clean power cheaper! So really, how could I complain?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need advertising—but heck, we wouldn’t need money, either! So until Reverend Billy & the Church of Stop Shopping become our president and congress, respectively, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about these boss organizations on one of the best little blogs in Brooklyn, and that you’ll support your own local micro-journalism outlets in whatever way best floats your boat.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Can’t we still enjoy a good old fashioned family rug sale?

We’ve all been there: our mother hurriedly vacates the four-bedroom house she’s been living in for 40 years and packs enough oriental rugs in the moving truck to carpet Lower Manhattan.

Whatcha gonna do? Sell those puppies!

Or, try to sell them.

Nice, huh?

It seems that on the Ikea-encrusted plastic fantastic landscape of home decor today, classy handmade oriental wool rugs are not a hot item. Since July, I’ve emailed dozens of my more domestically inclined friends about them, posted them on the neighborhood Yahoo group twice, flyered our local food coops and cafes with their visages, and enlisted fellow travelers to spread the word through their workplaces. Last night, I finally resorted to Craigslist.

The results? One sale, everyone! One measly sale.

Esteemed readers, please don’t tell me taste is dead—especially in a place known for its preoccupation with style! Please don’t tell me the Young People of Today, walking around in their skinny pants with their double-digit lattes, don’t care about aesthetics, or don’t want to splurge on nice things. Even worse, don’t tell me that the Old People of Today left their dignity in the checkout line at Target and forgot what they were always nagging us about when we just wanted to play Nintendo: the importance of craftsmanship, the wisdom of buying things that last, the value of maintaining tradition and culture.

Or, hey, if you do want to tell me these things, go ahead. I’ll steel myself. But you know what would really salve the wound? If you wanted to buy a rug! All reasonable offers entertained.

100 influential urbanists you probably don’t know about, but might-should

I don’t think I’ve heard the hyphenate “might-should” since I last hung out with my high school boyfriend’s Florida-born, Lynyrd Skynyrd-listening parents in their motor home—which was definitely a while ago! But sometimes it just fits the bill.

Case in point: last week, my beloved client-friends at ioby asked if I could help them with a project. They had recently come across Planetizen’s “100 Most Influential Urbanists” article and wanted to put together their own list of 100 more influential urbanists who also happen to be ioby Leaders (their honorific for residents who step up to make their neighborhood better in some way, and raise awareness and money on ioby to do it).

Naturally, I didn’t even need to think, “Might-should I do this?” I totally leapt at the chance to mine five-plus years’ worth of inspiriting ioby blog posts, videos, and giving reports for 100 awesome people who demonstrate the range of just who ioby Leaders are and just what they can do. Summarizing their stories into bite-sized pieces was also fun, though a taller order.

It’s so hard to have favorites when everyone is a knockout, but here are a few who stick with me:

  • Lucille White of Cleveland, crossing guard and grandmother of 19 (!), who lost two nieces to hit-and-runs. “Miss Lucille” convened a dozen middle and high school students in her neighborhood to help design and implement desperately needed traffic calming interventions where they live.

  • When the city of Highland Park, Michigan repossessed over 1,000 street lights from Jackson Koeppel‘s already underserved neighborhood, he co-founded Soulardarity: a membership-based, community-owned solar power nonprofit that’s installing its own new solar street lamps to light the way for his neighbors.

  • A poet and musician from Black Hills, South Dakota, Lyla June Johnston leads a team of 50-plus volunteers to organize the annual Black Hills Unity Concert, an event that joins native and non-native people alike in prayers for reconciliation, celebrations of unity, protests against injustice, and songs of hope.

Jeez, if I keep going, I’ll start tearing up again! Just too much greatness here for one blog post. Good thing you can check out 97 more excellent people and stories on ioby’s blog any time you want. They might-should help you remember that—despite Donald Trump’s best efforts—there’s still a lot of good going on out there these days.