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.
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  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.)
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  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.”
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  • “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.”
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  • 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.)”
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  • “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.”
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  • “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.”
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  • “Did you know that H.L. Mencken predicted this would happen almost 100 years ago?”
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    H.L. Mencken Trump cartoon
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  • “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.”
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  • “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.”
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  • “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!”

New Groundswell mural vivifies East Williamsburg; really makes ya think

Early last week, I took a short walk down Manhattan Ave to its terminus at Broadway. It was a nice walk—in part because, on a morning this hot, I found myself actually enjoying being in the shadow of those 2,700-unit Lindsay Park cooperative housing buildings. But mostly it was because I knew what awaited me at the end: not one, but two!, beautiful and moving public murals by NYC’s own Groundswell, a nonprofit that’s been bedecking the city with gorgeous, socially-conscious public art, painted by teams of professionals and city kids, for 20 years.

I’ve been admiring the first mural I passed, “I Just Want To Come Home,” since it went up in 2015. A “contemporary blues piece,” according to the organization, the painting’s moody color scheme and kaleidoscopic arrangement of faces  within the letters of its title make it at once an arresting, calming, and haunting visual experience. With the knowledge that its purpose is to illustrate the complex relationships between police, young men of color, gentrification, incarceration, and a sense of safety and belonging, that experience is enriched many-fold.

Then I turned the corner onto Broadway and joined the dedication ceremony for Groundswell’s newest art project in our ‘hood: “The Fall of Oppression” (so new, it looks like Groundswell’s yet to put it on their website!). It’s a pretty fascinating work.

You can read my write-up of the whole dedication experience—complete with tear-jerking quotes from the lead artist, Groundswell’s program director, and our city council district rep—on Bushwick Daily.

My renewed thanks to all of you for keeping Williamsburg an enjoyable and educational place to live, paint, and walk. And for continuing to fight that good fight.

Readers: Tell me about your favorite public art!

A Most Brooklyn Saturday (with some Manhattan thrown in)

Here at Unsolicited Vibe Assessment, we strive to give the people what they want. (That is what we strive to do, isn’t it? And by “we,” I mean “the royal we,” aka me.)

The Dude Lebowski

The Dude knows all about “the royal we”

When I emailed a former New Yorker friend the other day about Arthur’s and my Very Brooklyn Saturday, she replied:

“Enjoyed reading about your epic day in Brooklyn! Are you going to blog about that?? What an unforgettable mix of all things BK and happy life there. So very excited to visit you across the bridge and hang with all of you there soon. I can feel that Brooklyn happiness in me already. If I ever return to NYC, it will definitely be either BK or Upper-Upper West Side. After your e-mail, BK is winning by a few points : )”

I’m nothing if not a Brooklyn booster, so yes, friend, I shall blog about it! Perhaps we’ll be able to make a few more fans for our beloved borough.

Arthur and I bought our wedding rings today!! They’re recycled gold, because we’re giant hippies.

Wedding bands

Rangs

Actually, today was such a nice day that I want to tell you more about it.

Arturo went to hot yoga at 10:00 am and I repotted some plants that were overgrowing their bounds. I also listened to a radio program about the genocide in Syria, which is so horrific, of course. That kind of stayed with me all day—perhaps not the best audio choice for this moment… But gotta stay informed.

00 Pizza

00+Co (photo from Yelp; those are not my beautiful hands)

Then we met up and biked into Manhattan to try a new vegan pizza place in the East Village, went to SoHo to get our rings, bought a few books at the Strand, and met up with our friend Andy at The Lot Radio, possibly the most Brooklyn thing ever: a streaming radio station located in a shipping container in a vacant lot that also sells cold brew coffee and vegan cookies.

The Lot Radio via Hyperallergic

Courtesy DJ Haram

Top: The Lot Radio (photo from Hyperallergic) Bottom: A DJ sesh live from their webcam! (photo from, and quite possibly of, DJ Haram: djharam.tumblr.com)

Then Arthur went to meet some friends for dinner, and I came back here to write to you :)

I’m always glad to be in NYC, but particularly on the first hella-sunny Saturday of the springtime, with the best of friends and most delicious of itineraries, I’m even more keenly aware that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Readers! Where’s your happy place?

Scholes Street Studio: Making my day in all kinds of ways

I did an interview a few weeks ago with the lovely human beings Anita Mercier and René Pierre Allain, long-time Williamsburg residents, accomplished parents, and co-owners of Scholes Street Studio, a gem of a music space in our fair neighborhood.

The fascinating couple took more time than was necessary to show me around their beautiful and impressive live/work/performance space, and we enjoyed talking about their collection of African masks, the benefits of a metalworking background in the context of a major building renovation, and the ever-changing arts landscape of NYC.

Artists By Any Other Name performance

Artists By Any Other Name perform in 2015 (photo courtesy of Scholes Street Studio)

I felt the story I wrote about it for Bushwick Daily basically did the conversation, and Scholes Street Studio itself, justice. Plus it came together pretty easily once the interview was done, which always feels good from the ol’ craftsmanship perspective. But I was totally and wonderfully shocked when Bushwick Daily’s managing editor Emilie Ruscoe sent me the following feedback a couple of weeks after it was published:

“This is way overdue, but I have been meaning to email you back regarding your amazing work on the Scholes Street Studio piece! It was outstanding! Seriously beautiful, thoughtful, elegant features writing that, in my estimation, made up a story that seems like something the most discriminating news outlets I read would have been proud to run. I feel so lucky that you wrote it for us and so proud to have something so great among the stories I’ve edited for this site. Thank you so much!!”

Jeez, Emilie—you made me blush! You also made my day. Heck, my week! While trying to write well is its own reward, it’s a huge, huge help to get thoughtful pats on the back like this from time to time (as well as thoughtful critiques, which Emilie is also good at!). Helps make all the time spent staring at the screen totally worth it.

So this is pretty much a win-win, right? Memorable conversation, solid story, and morale-boosting accolade. (Well, if my math is right, that actually constitutes a win-win-win.) Just had to share.

Fellow writers (or anyone else): Tell me about a notable compliment you’ve received!

“We just met on the Internet. … Wait, that’s not what it sounds like!”

Nothing wrong with meeting on the Internet, of course! But the phrase sounded funny when I used it to describe my relationship to musician and writer Mariel Beaumont as I blew in to Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory a few nights ago in search of her and not sure I’d recognize her.

Mariel wrote to me last week to say she enjoyed this interview about vinyl record collectors I wrote for Medium and asked if I had any tips for promoting work on the site. While I was super-stoked to get a shout from someone I didn’t know, I had to be super-disappointing and let Mariel know that all the strokes that article’s gotten have been courtesy of the Dust & Grooves publicity machine; no marketing genius of mine.

Church Girls

Mariel (female) with her band. One of these guys is her twin brother!

We got to talking just the same and I learned her band Church Girls was going to be up from Philly in just a few days to play a show. I told her I’d try to make it, she told me she’d put me on the list, and—this outcome is far too infrequent—we both did what we said!

After I made a few wrong guesses, she spotted me in the crowd, we chatted for a bit, I heard Church Girls’ très bon indie/post-punk/folk-type set (with a few ripping guitar solos and a little Sam Cooke thrown in), and she was even nice enough to procure me a secret beer from backstage. (Pro-tip for making friends: this effort never fails to impress.)

In addition to getting lots of love for her music from the persnickety press, Mariel has written some great stuff, including this story, on Medium, about some of the real-life lessons she took from an adolescence spent at DIY shows and basement clubs. (See, this is the extent of my marketing strategy: “Hey, blog readers—check this other article out!”)

Despite its inherent identity as a connector, we all know the Internet has a Jekyll and Hyde personality that can work to isolate us (and deluge us with crap) as well as it can bring us closer together. As something of a luddite, it’s nice for me to occasionally be reminded of the ability of tools like web publishing and email to allow us to meet new, actual people in real, physical places. So much the better when those people are genuinely cool, and offer you beer.

Two great reasons to leave the house tonight (yes, in the snow)

If you’re in or around NYC, guess what? More snow tonight!

“Boo hoo,” you say. “Go on and try to convince me why I should leave the house.”

WELL. One reason is Tahneer, and the other is Rachel.

First, the incomparable and lovely Tahneer Oksman will be at Chinatown’s Museum at Eldridge Street for the launch of her new (and first) book, “How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?” Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs. I know Tahneer’s husband Jon from the Park Slope Food Coop, and I used to babysit their older son. We’ve been through all that, and I still like them!

Then!, I’ll be biking back over the bridge (in the snow! such dedication!) to see my former neighbor-turned-friend Rachel Jones “talk to a bunch of drunks about pulling out” (her words). The Divine Ms. Jones will be holding court at The Bedford in Williamsburg for the February edition of the Society for the Advancement of Social Studies‘ lecture series. I imagine this one might get a little blue!

So if you’re up for some chilling snowflakes and piping hot talk, c’mon leave the house and join me!

“Incinerate Your Aversion to Performance Art” — new ink in Bushwick Daily

Polaroid genius Nick McManus and I enjoyed a Roman candle-esque tenure at Bushwick Daily in 2014, and I’ve been milking the produce of our collaboration regularly since. (Nick has gone on to dizzying heights the likes of Flavorpill and some others that whizzed by my consciousness when he told me about them on the phone the other day. Whatever they are, dude, you know I’m mighty stoked for ya!)

Nick McManus Polaroid

Nick (middle, faceless) engaging in incidental performance art, per usual

I admit to dropping the ball with the Bushwick gang after that hat trick of party coverage, but our acquaintance was rekindled when I ran into its lovely crew at a pre-Christmas poetry reading. They were nice enough to say they’d entertain any new pitches I cared to share—a statement they’ll likely regret, but I’m psyched!

Here’s me picking up where I left off (except without Nick, malheureusement, as it’s hard to illustrate a preview of an event with a photo): a shorty about people who cover their faces in pizza dough and punch tubs of margarine—for art!

Up next: god only knows. NYC is perfectly unpredictable (see all of the above).

Sines in the ‘hood

I’m super myopic, and I only moved to Williamsburg a couple of months ago, so I might have just been missing this awesome Frank Ape by the artist Sines on Lorimer and Meserole Streets… until today.

IMG_1153

Yeah, Frank!

I’m a fan, both of @SinesArt and of what I believe to be Frank’s life philosophy, so I was cheered to see it.

It also reminded me that I accompanied my Polaroid-snapping friend Crazy Nick to an art battle in Dumbo last year and we tried to get an article published about the experience. I don’t think anyone bit, so I’m happy to publish it here, six months after the fact, for whoever might still get a thrill:

Dumbo Arts Festival Art Battle Intense, Danceable
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Funny that one of the stipulations of the Secret Walls art battle at Dynomighty Design last Saturday [September 27, 2014] was that the competing illustrators use only black ink on white canvasses, because the color in the room was off the chart. At least 50 many-splendored folks showed up to watch Abe Lincoln Jr. and Brandon Sines square off with markers and paint for 90 minutes.
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As I wandered the gallery floor, the rainbow unfurled: a curly-haired baby with gold earrings bopped between big Keith Haring-esque paintings, strapped to a mom in a black sleeveless pantsuit with a red bra visible underneath. A tall black dude in a bright yellow “No Money, No Honey” t-shirt danced to the DJ’s Paula Abdul and Toto tracks. The emcee grew a waxed mustache, the ladies wore red lipstick, and the ratio of tie-dye shirts to spiderweb elbow tattoos throughout the crowd was probably one to one.
Meanwhile, Sanford King Sizes flew like inky stick insects and wet paintbrushes cried grayscale across the canvasses as the artists sweated ’til the timer dinged: the judging hour. A pale bald guy and a guy in hot pink glasses (both art world hot shots) were called upon to deliver their critiques and rulings, and the crowd listened before getting their own votes measured by a decibel meter. As is often the case, minds were split: the critics went for Abe Lincoln, and the people sided with Sines.
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Sadly, there can be only one. But the guys took it like pros, and everyone still danced afterward, before tripping back out into the afternoon sun.