“…as i hit the gas and crash it through a store front window.”

So goes the last half of the last sentence of what is so far my favorite vignette in the very great Rick Berlin’s newish book, The Paragraphs.

Musician Rick Berlin at the Midway Cafe Boston March 2014

Rick at the Midway Cafe, March 2014

I’ve known Rick since my college days in Boston, and have had the joy of seeing many of his live performances, attending the first Jamaica Plain Music Festival (which he helps to organize), and writing about him a few times. I also once convinced the doorman in his old Piano Factory apartment building to let me sleep in the basement when I didn’t have anywhere else to go! Yes, Rick and I go way back.

Over the years, I’ve been the lucky recipient of much correspondence from Rick—both of the personal and email blast varieties. His fearless writing (as I was stoked to be quoted as saying in the opening pages of The Paragraphs) is vital and disarming, and it makes me so happy to know that some of it has finally been anthologized.

Read more about Rick in this awesome Boston Globe article from last month (written by the also great Joan Anderman, @middlemojo) and git your copy from Jamaica Plain’s own Cutlass Press. It’s a great companion on the subway, while waiting for the doc to see you, and in bed at night, when it’s the last thing on your mind before you fall asleep.

The Trump presidency isn’t the only reason to start planning for your demise

You’re still gonna die someday, no matter who’s president! Dem’s da breaks, folks.

Elon Musk spacesuit

Unless…?

No one can game this system (well, maybe Elon Musk?), but we can go a long way toward making sure we shuffle off this mortal coil gracefully—at least with regard to our worldly stuff.

I recently spoke with an NYC-based estate law and probate attorney who gave me some good end-of-life planning tips that people of any age and economic status can use to help their friends and family avoid painful posthumous guesswork.

For her complete primer, and a few other attempts at making reading about wills and healthcare directives fun, you can peep my article in Bushwick Daily.

Oh, and as for that whole Trump-giving-everyone-suicidal-anxiety thing, here’s a bit of a cheerer-upper. Today is The Ides of Trump! Send a postcard and take a deep, life-affirming breath.

Looking for a practical, ongoing way to make a positive difference post-election?

I thought you might be!

Here’s one idea that checks all of the following boxes:

  • It will keep us thinking critically and articulating our thoughts about political issues in the coming year and beyond, on a regular basis
  • It will let our elected representatives know where we stand on key issues likely to be affected by the Trump administration (climate change, freedom of the press, reproductive rights, racism, immigration…)
  • It doesn’t cost anything but a couple of postage stamps and a bit of printer ink each week
  • It can be accomplished at any time of day or night, in the comfort of your home (and in your pajamas, if you so choose), in 30 minutes or less, once a week
  • It will introduce you to a grip (so far 110 and counting) of excellent people nationwide who are also committing to this peaceful act of democracy
  • Unlike complaining to our already-sympathetic friends and family in our living rooms (which I also fully intend to go on doing), this actually might help us sway decision-making at the highest levels of government

What is it??

Why, it’s a good old fashioned letter writing campaign!

Letter writing campaign

Image borrowed from DayAgainstHomophobia.org

My new friend Katie is organizing people nationwide who pledge to send one brief letter a week to our respective state’s senators (and district reps, too, if we choose) about important issues we want to weigh in on. We’ll start right after the inauguration. The group is pooling ideas for topics to write about and talking points to include, so the letter-penning task won’t turn into hours of homework for anyone. (AKA: You don’t need to be a policy wonk to make your letters meaningful! You just need to show you care.)

While of course we’d love for anyone and everyone to get in on this, we’re especially looking for people who live in “red” or mixed states or congressional districts to get on board, as well as people who live in places that experienced an unexpected swell of Trump support in the voting booths.

Here’s a document Katie drafted called The Big Idea which explains everything a little more, and one I drafted with a fun photo at the top.

If you think you might want to take part, awesome!! Just fill out this quick form, or send an email to Katie at shallnotperish2016@gmail.com with the subject “Deal Me In” and your city and state in the body. She’ll give you more details and you can decide if you want to take part.

Thanks, fellow travelers! I’m glad to have you around as we gear up for the unknown.

The thread that’s pulling us through post-election depression

On Wednesday morning last week, overcome with a mix of despair, denial, and a post-election night hangover, I sent this email to over 60 people:

Hi friends and family,

Apologies for the long recipient list, but I’m thinking of you all right now.

Been a lot of tears in our house this morning; maybe yours, too. Still doesn’t seem real.

I remember being in Williamsburg in 2008 when Obama was elected for the first time. The streets were alive. People were yelling from apartment windows, dancing on the roofs of cars. Last night, as Arthur and I walked home from Michael and Hallie’s, this place was a ghost town. We passed a couple sitting on a stoop, the woman crying and the man consoling her. When we got home, we saw the attached was spray painted across the street from our apartment (one of a few on this block); this morning, a couple laid out the pantsuit memorial. (The signs read “RIP America” and “1776 – 2016.”)

Maybe things won’t be so bad. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a relatively uneventful four years followed by someone better. But this election does throw into relief for me the constantly-important need to live a good and decent life, and to help each other stay engaged and succeed in that. It also reminds me of how much love I have for each of you, and how grateful I am that we’re in all of this together.

Good luck to us all,

A

I attached this photo: the scene across the street from our apartment on November 9:

Hillary Clinton pantsuit memorial Donald Trump graffiti

There was no real intention behind the email; I was just feeling shocked and wanted to reach for my people.

But as they say in clickbait: “You’ll never believe what happened next!”

(Well, I suppose it’s actually pretty predictable, but it did pleasantly surprise me.)

  1. No one seemed annoyed by that long recipient list.
    .
  2. People began to respond—usually “reply all”—with a beautiful variety of perspectives, stories, emotions, and even some freaky art. (This eclectic group ranges in their ages from mid-20s to mid-70s, in their education levels from GED to PhD, and in their vocations from bartender to retired chemistry professor to child psychologist to sommelier to wood shop teacher to real estate agent and beyond.)
    .
  3. As the post-election week wore on, people began referring to the thread as a “safe space;” they said they were so glad it was there for them in this trying time; they said it had created a community.

Bittersweet moment

Color me touched, impressed, and more grateful than perhaps ever before to have this outstanding group of people to turn to, in good times and in bad.

Here are some (anonymous) excerpts from their contributions:

  • “I fear that you younger folks will have to live with a very different country ahead.”
    .
  • “Yes, all we have is each other and love where we can find it. When the going gets tough we’ll probably find less of it around. What I’m finding myself scared and sad about is the need to be brave for maybe years to come, to sacrifice and take risks for each other, and I just feel too tired and scared for another civil rights movement. Getting arrested made me less fierce, not more. Thanks for the missive and the community. Sorry that I don’t have a lot of light right now. Want to come over for a hang tonight? I’m back from soccer by 9.”
    .
  • thank god my cats have no idea that today is different from yesterday and make me laugh. (scraping week old cat puke off the floor feels appropriate.)”
    .
  • “As I told my Dad earlier today, this is the first time I’ve lost sleep and then had a nightmare about a political issue. And I’m not even that liberal! I think the overwhelming amount of people that care for one another and are genuinely disturbed by this result will make a big difference. We’re not dead! Either Trump will be just another crappy president, or he’ll try something really bad and the people won’t have it. We aren’t Germany after WW1, we’re a multicultural nation that can’t be tricked completely. It will be OK.”
    .
  • “I’m thinking that perhaps most or all of you are living ‘Up North’ (as we say here in North Carolina). It is very helpful to read your personal statements of despair and yet hope. My husband and I feel fortunate that we have so many like-minded friends and family and also a strong, progressive and outspoken church community. Otherwise I think we might feel even more depressed and overwhelmed than we do already. At 73, I am crushed to find that our country is still not ready for strong female leadership, which I had hoped would happen in my lifetime. It is hard to keep on hoping after so many dry years (the 70s were a lot more fun). But it is the hope and encouragement of people like you who keep us all going and willing to keep fighting for true change in this country of ours.”
    .
  • “Did you know that H.L. Mencken predicted this would happen almost 100 years ago?”
    .
    H.L. Mencken Trump cartoon
    .
  • “Feeling very much the same here in the western bastion of sanity. Finding some relief in commiserating with like minded folks. One thing I’ve found therapeutic is to create a list of three things that I can and will do to make the next 4+ years just a little less shitty. Give it a try.”
    .
  • “I believe my fear is rational. April and I were in Russia over the summer, and we witnessed first-hand a country where an authoritarian has taken power, then systematically weakened, dismantled, or taken control over all the institutions of democracy and media in order to cement his power. The same thing is happening in Turkey as we speak. There is a blueprint for it. Perhaps I am being alarmist (I hope), but as we learned in this election, underestimating Trump is a mistake. We can’t keep dismissing him as a buffoon. He has never played by the rules or respected the norms of civil society. We need to assume he is capable of anything, and that even his most outrageous threats are serious, possible, and anything but bluster. I think we need to ignore our democratic impulse to be gracious in defeat, or to give the new president the benefit of the doubt. He has said what he wants to do, and we need to believe him and challenge him from the start, before he gets entrenched.”
    .

  • “Remember Susan B’s words, ‘Failure is impossible.’ “

An Indian-American friend gave her account of getting “Shut up, you Arab bitch, you’re dead” shouted at her repeatedly on the subway. My husband’s septuagenarian aunt proposed several practical actions we could all take moving forward: hosting letter-writing potluck dinners, making phone calls to state and national level representatives, convening small groups and visiting congresspeople’s offices with a particular request or list of questions. We traded links to petitions, homemade satirical videos, comforting quotes and poetry, and possibilities for answering the question, “What do we do now?”

In one of my favorite replies, a lawyer friend wrote about his volunteer work with the Safe Passage Project and how in the past two years he’s helped three children apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and (fingers crossed) get green cards.

Outside of the births of my children, [helping one of these kids in particular] might be the proudest moment of my life and it is definitely my proudest moment as an attorney,” he wrote. “It is exactly why I became an attorney, to help people.”

He continued: “Please see the importance of connecting with others. We cannot allow kids like these to fall through the cracks. To become victims of Trump and those who support him. Elizabeth Warren said on Rachel Maddow yesterday that we need to organize and stay in touch with those around us. Do not be afraid to ask your friends, your coworkers, and even those you meet on the street what is wrong and be prepared to listen to their answers. Forge relationships with others and do not be afraid to ask for help. We are here for you and we will not let you fail. You are not alone.”

The group’s wonderful and poignant notes go on, too many to recount here. I’ll end with the one that’s probably gotten the most play in our house to date, from our computer-programmer-turned-full-time-drummer friend who encapsulates with equal parts intelligent critique and absurd humor the scary ride we’ve been on for the past week and change:

I guess we must revel in the friendships we make during the struggle and not take it for granted that we live with neighbors who understand science, diversity and the importance of inclusion for effective democracy.

From my perspective, the same people who weren’t concerned as we lost soldiers daily in Iraq, lost hundreds of contractors, killed hundreds of thousands of people defending against our illegal invasion of their nation, and destroyed thousands of emails that would have explained our intent for invading that country have spent the last several years seizing on one terrible moment where we tragically lost four contractors in Benghazi, wasting millions of dollars and all their energy attacking Hillary over less important emails and one tragic night, instead of governing.

Somehow this bad work ethic and focus on negative attacks was rewarded: and we have a president who, for example, has the endorsement of the fraternal order of police because he doesn’t hold them accountable, exemplified by his stupendous belief that the Central Park 5 should still be in prison or executed in spite of DNA evidence exonerating them and fingering the actual perpetrator who has a record of sexual assault (who also confessed and described his attack). And who similarly chooses ignorance on science of climate change, racism, freedom of religion, women’s rights, marriage equality, health care, etc…

Into the time machine we go: goodbye health care, goodbye freedom of choice, goodbye marriage equality, goodbye holding authorities accountable for false confessions and planted evidence, goodbye freedom from religion, goodbye leading the world on how democracy can work by being inclusive and positive. Hello darkness my old friend.

Just kidding: We need to stay positive, affect ignorance with love and positive guidance and finding common threads that bind us rather than alienation, as hard as that seems. And on the positive side: comedians will be in heaven with this guy in office.

This is all going to backfire as I have decided to run for city council, work my way up to senator as I get my law degree, all the while I will be groping white men like [friend’s name] full-on with no remorse and without permission. My ultimate plan is to be the first gay President. After the third debate, as me and my GOP opponent (picture a Mitt clone) reach to shake hands, I will grab that motherfucker by his balls and as he squirms I will look at the cameras, looking America right in the eye, and say “This is for Trump, you no good son of a bitch!”

A reluctant blogger finally gets into blogger-hood

If you know much at all about me, you know that I’ve never had a Facebook account or an Instagram account. I signed up for Twitter in 2009 so I could join Medium, but I’ve so far tweeted exactly once (to my local NPR morning show host so I could recommend he do a story about the awesome combination washing machine repair and rock collecting shop in my old neighborhood). I have been on Flickr for the past decade, and have somehow posted over 18,000 photos there in that time, but I have also accrued only 18 followers, which says something about how much I care to advertise it. The list goes on thusly.

Galah bird in Onkaparinga, Australia

One from the Flickr archives: 27-year-old me about to receive a finger bite from a gas station owner’s pet Galah bird in Onkaparinga, Australia. That’ll learn me to poke!

All of it to say that as long as blogs have been around (probably 20 years), people close and not so close to me alike have suggested that I start one. Of course I understood the idea (I’m a writer! we have the Internet! therefore, I should write on the internet!), but my reluctances ran several:

1) I’m not particularly techie, and wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to blog from the software standpoint.

2) While I have come to love writing in many genres and spend a lot of my days doing it, my most favorite writing pastimes involve composing personal work for specific audiences (journal entries that only I see, letters and emails for friends…). I didn’t want to feel like this supposedly-fun pursuit was actually work.

3) Conventional wisdom holds that the best blogs are somehow focused—on food, travel, relationships, the world’s largest collection of taxidermied frogs depicted in various everyday life situations*, etc. Since I like to write about all of those things, and many more!, how would I ever imbue my blog with a sense of focus, purpose, and cohesion?

Most of those reasons finally stopped stopping me in January of last year. At that time, I was a half-year in to my new full-time freelance writing life, for which I’d already gone through the learning pains of setting up an entire website (with a lot of help from friends like Claire here!), so the tech thing was no longer so intimidating. I found I was actually enjoying challenging myself to write in different genres, and slowly became more and more curious about how blog writing would compare to the other types I’d recently gotten practice with (including ghostwriting, post-translation polishing, and drafting static pages for websites). Plus I now had a natural focus for my blog: my life as a freelance writer! And since that in itself encompasses a lot of topics, I felt I could justify squishing them all into one blog with “freelancing” as the overarching umbrella.

Blog tags

A screenshot of my blog post tags. Too eclectic? Nah.

Since the start of 2015, I have come to enjoy these weekly diversions from writing blog posts for inspiring nonprofits and newsletters for unique conferences to reflect on the work I’ve recently done and life I’ve recently led.

As a (somehow unexpected) side benefit, I’ve also found myself crossing paths with some awesome fellow bloggers. Here are two I believe are worthy of sharing with you now: they also got roped into the Liebster Award madness recently, and both (to my amazement) took the time to post responses to the 11 funky questions I posed when I nominated them!

Have a look?

  • Nicholas Peart, aka The Slider, a British-born painter, musician, songwriter, poet, filmmaker, photographer, and traveler who wrote some stuff about his time in South Africa that I very much enjoyed.
  • Neil Scheinin, who goes by the handle Yeah, Another Blogger, a fellow self-described dabbler who writes thoughtfully about a range of fun topics, including pizza, beer, and rock music (mmm!).

In response to their responses, I will just say:

  1. Nicholas, one of my favorite popcorn toppings is a solution of garlic, olive oil, and crushed red pepper. Heat that up in a pan while the kernels are popping, then drizzle it over the bowl, sprinkle a bit of salt, and you’re golden!
  2. Neil, regarding the number of seconds by which you’ve been known to extend the three-second rule (“thousands and thousands”), I can only say: NICE WORK.

Thank you both for your camaraderie, and your good writing, in this big old Internet world. Knowing I’m in the company of such excellent dudes makes me a less reluctant blogger every day.

*Okay, Froggyland is a website, not a blog. But I’ve been dying to mention it, so I just shoehorned it in here. Apologies to the purists. (But aren’t you also speechless??)

I actually had to look up “epistolary”

Shame on me!

A new client mentioned to me yesterday that she enjoyed my story on Huffington Post about my mom’s decades-long commitment to writing letters to me and my brother. I’m always glad when this piece gets love because it’s such an unusual story… Or so I thought.

April Greene + mom

Me and Mom in Colorado a couple of years ago

The client went on to say, “My mom and grandmother carried on the same tradition and I’m in possession of about 10 years of their correspondence. I hear constantly from my mom about my failures to live up to her expectations on the epistolary front.”

Well, shut me up! Go moms and grandmas everywhere.

Also shut me up because I had to look up “epistolary” and I’m a writer. I will say the definition looked familiar.

Who else out there is carrying on a fabulous family writing tradition?