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bits & pieces: what did you say?

I’ve read some excellent books this summer–here are a few bits and pieces of them that I’ve been carrying around with me.

 

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

“When a woman you work with calls you by the name of

another woman you work with, it is too much of a cliche

not to laugh out loud with the friend beside you who says,

oh no she didn’t. Still, in the end, so what, who cares? She

had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right.

 

Yes, and in your mail the apology note appears referring to

‘our mistake.’ Apparently your own invisibility is the real

problem causing her confusion. This is how the apparatus

she propels you into begins to multiply its meaning.

 

What did you say?”

 

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

“Perhaps it’s the word radical that needs rethinking. But what could we angle ourselves toward instead, or in addition? Openness? Is that good enough, strong enough? You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is–working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows [Pema Chödrön]. And the thing is, even you don’t always know.”

 

Kindred by Octavia Butler

“‘I don’t have a name for the thing that happened to me, but I don’t feel safe anymore.’

I sat very still, trying not to fall off my chair. The floor seemed farther away than it should have. I reached out for the table to steady myself, but before I could touch it, it was gone. And the distant floor seemed to darken and change. The linoleum tile became wood, partially carpeted. And the chair beneath me vanished.”

 

Nevada by Imogen Binnie

“Because shaving and putting on a bunch of foundation every day are emotionally exhausting reminders of being trans, she gets a step removed from them by monologuing like she’s explaining them to someone. Secret trick one is to boil water in a kettle on the stove while you get dressed and brush your teeth, then stop up the sink and make yourself a little boiling lake. If the water is so hot that truly hurts your fingers when you splash it on your face and you kind of worry that you’re doing permanent damage to your skin, you are doing it right. Super hot water makes the shave closer, who knows why.”

 

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

“Our bodies are not war machines that attack everything foreign and unfamiliar, this metaphor suggests, but gardens where, under the right conditions, we live in balance with many other organisms. In the garden of the body, we look inward and find not self, but other.

If we extend the metaphor of the garden to our social body, we might imagine ourselves as a garden within a garden. The outer garden is no Eden, and no rose garden either. It is as strange and various as the inner garden of our bodies, where we host fungi and bacteria of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ dispositions. This garden is unbounded and unkempt, bearing both fruit and thorns. Perhaps we should call it a wilderness. Or perhaps community is sufficient. However we choose to think of the social body, we are each other’s environment. Immunity is a shared space–a garden we tend together.”

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bits & pieces: the world is blue

Bits and pieces of things I read over the holidays:

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

This book is excellent. Read the introduction here.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.”

Wonderful writing as per usual from Ms. Adichie, although I have to say I liked her others better.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

“Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self-love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love. This is why it is useful to see love as a practice. When we act, we can trust that there are concrete steps to take on love’s path. We learn to communicate, to be still and listen to the needs of our hearts, and we listen to others. We learn compassion by being willing to hear the pain, as well as the joy, of those we love.”

The words of Yuri Kochiyama, hand-lettered for Hyphen

“Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another.”

Mostly because of the lettering. So pretty. [x].

Maria Popova on Rebecca Solnit’s “The Blue of Distance” in A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“This relationship between desire and distance, Solnit argues in one of the most poignant passages in this altogether brilliant book, is also the root of our deep-seated unease with desire — a state we approach with a single-minded quest for its eradication. We seek to demolish it either with grasping action, through consummation, or with restless resistance, through denial and suppression. We can’t, it seems, just be with desire — bear witness to it, inhabit it fully, approach it with what John Keats memorably termed ‘negative capability.’ With extraordinary elegance and sensitivity, Solnit offers a remedy for this chronic anxiety:

‘We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away…After all we hardly know our own depths.'”

Read the post here. And the whole essay, “The Blue of Distance,” here.

This blue is everything.

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white coats for black lives

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On Wednesday, students from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and more than 70 medical schools across the nation participated in an act of protest against anti-black racism in the context of police brutality and our nation’s justice system. Based on the idea of a sit-in, students engaged in a “die-in” to emphasize the life and death nature of this issue. I’ve been trying to organize thoughts around this, because it has raised a lot of questions about privilege, space, responsibility, and what it means to be an ally. More to come on that, maybe.

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This is what students from Einstein wrote and read aloud before dropping to the ground:

“James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name, 1961: ‘The white police officer… finds himself at the very center of the revolution now occurring in the world… he is exposed, as few white people are, to the anguish of the black people around him… One day, to everyone’s astonishment, someone drops a match in the powder keg and everything blows up. [Everyone is ] demanding to know what happened. What happened is that Negroes want to be treated like men [humans].’

When prejudice and power meet, systemic racism results. Do not attempt to invalidate the pain and hopelessness many people of color feel regarding these issues because you do not understand or know.

Today, as future healthcare professionals, we unite in proclaiming that black lives matter. We will lay in solidarity for the 7 minutes that Eric Garner went without medical care after being strangled. We will proclaim ‘four and a half’ for the hours Michael Brown’s body lay in the streets of Ferguson on that hot August day after his murder. Today, we wear our white coats in support of black lives. We acknowledge medicine’s role in systemic racism and stand together in eradicating it.

We ask that you show your support by engaging in a moment of silence for the duration of the die-in to honor black lives lost at the hands of systemic racism in law, medicine, and beyond. Engage your own humanity and stand on the right side of history.”

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remembering sely

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This post is dedicated to Aracelis “Sely” Ayuso and to all of the people who care about her.

“Livy, you look like a fairy. It must be your hair.” I let out a hearty laugh—a fairy? Really? Those were words I had never heard before. They came from the mouth of my smiling, 21 year-old coworker named Sely. We were standing behind the U-shaped counter of the bakery where we worked, where ten people at a time moved around each other through a chaotic, clumsy dance to serve coffee and pastries to the city’s elite. Every day, each of us had to wear a uniform meant to make us blend into this two-story, bustling place on 18th street. Day after day, I wrapped two aprons around my waist, wore a black t-shirt, and donned the dorkiest hat you’ve ever seen. Fairy attire, naturally.

Sely stood there in front of me and flipped my ponytail with a gentle flick of her wrist. “Yeah, it’s definitely the hair.” She continued, “I know you’re smart and shit, but if this medicine thing doesn’t work out, you should become a model.” I started cracking up again and told her that was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me. We got back to stacking croissants in a perfect pyramid of butter-filled doom, and I was smiling.

This was the moment I thought about when I found out a few days ago that tragedy had struck. On July 12, 2014, Sely passed away due to a fatal subway accident on the platform of the Brooklyn-bound 4 train in Union Square. This jarring news weighed heavy on my heart, and I wanted to share the few glimpses of Sely that I experienced while we were working together. Some of us at the bakery only knew her briefly and in this context, like me. Her family and friends could say so much more, but this is what I know.

“Is that LIVY?” she would ask, with her head tilted, grinning.

While the rest of my coworkers and I usually would say hi to each other only once we found a break from the madness, she would always greet me this way immediately. It was like she was singing every time she said it, with a cadence so undeniably rooted in New York. It became a routine for me to tease her for shouting “cooaffee” instead of my Californian pronunciation of “coffee.”

Most days, she was lighthearted, silly, and kind of ridiculous. She always loved to talk about her adorable, three year-old daughter, Ashlynn. Sometimes she would seem tired, perhaps from things in her life I never knew anything about, but her spirit was always positive.

One day, however, her smile transformed into a look of concern. She had stepped off the counter to see if I was okay, because I had just stormed off and was pacing in anger. Five minutes after arriving that day, a customer had singled me out because of my ethnicity and my inability to give him a particular mug for his latte. His words dripped with entitlement, and for whatever reason that day I was just not having it. Of the 20 customers in line behind him witnessing this scene unfold, some glared at him with disgust. But not a single one spoke up to defend me. So I stopped what I was doing, and she ran after me. If it hadn’t been for Sely’s small gesture of compassion, I would’ve felt very alone.

There’s an essay by Rebecca Solnit, one of my favorite writers, in which she says, “The stars we are given. The constellations we make.” Sely was the kind of person who I would imagine as a star, a node that would branch off in all directions to form a network of connected, incandescent points in the sky. I am just one of what seems like many such points.

To me, remembering her means striving to live with the everyday kindness and disarming sense of warmth that she emanated.

This past year, I spent time volunteering with kids in Vietnam, traveling alone to Italy, and spending a lot of time making coffee. Openness is something that I keep returning to. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through it all is that openness is not just a nice quality to have—it does something. It does work. It effects change. Being generous, kind, and present creates opportunities for human relationships to grow and for communities to be created.

Sely was one of several people I met this year who reinforced that lesson. It was as simple as the way she said hi to me.

I wish to send my thoughts and sympathies to her friends, family, and cutie pie daughter in particular. May her life be celebrated.

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who enlarges you?

Each of us has an infinite capacity to welcome people, to take them in. Some people make us shrink and inhibit our growth. But I’m starting to think that really most people enlarge us, usually in ways we could never predict beforehand. Being open and invested in those we encounter, no matter where or when, can make us bigger–in a good way. It is a matter of choice and consciousness. Love is a decision.

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anaïs nin on writing, emotion, and excess

“I like to live always at the beginnings of life, not at their end. We all lose some of our faith under the oppression of mad leaders, insane history, pathologic cruelties of daily life. I am by nature always beginning and believing…

You have not yet discovered that you have a lot to give, and that the more you give the more riches you will find in yourself. It amazed me that you felt that each time you write a story you gave away one of your dreams and you felt the poorer for it. But then you have not thought that this dream is planted in others, others begin to live it too, it is shared, it is the beginning of friendship and love.

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.”

Anais Nin, The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

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