Cute AF

I am cute. I haven’t always believed it, but I’ve grown into that awareness. While I still say my cuteness peaked at two years old, when I was so adorable I should have been declared illegal, I am happy with the face I have now. (It is, actually, very much the same face, but it has shifted a bit with age.)

I’m not cute all the time, of course. Sometimes I’m grey and exhausted and look just as bad as that sounds. I don’t usually photograph well, and the left side of my face is most emphatically not my good side. Still, overall, I put myself solidly in the “cute” category.

When I say “cute,” I am not being coy because I don’t want to say “pretty” or won’t allow myself to say “beautiful.” There are days when I could cross-post myself under “pretty” – primarily on spectacular-hair-day days – but those are moments. Cute is my steady state. Beautiful is off the table. It was never on the table, not even back at my toddler-fabulous peak. Beautiful is out of the realm of the possible primarily because of my button of a nose, the cuteness of which used to be a cause of consternation, but with which I am now at peace.

I’m not hoping people will read this and respond with choruses of, “You’re so pretty!” or “I think you’re beautiful!” It’s entirely fine with me if people think these things, but I will not be persuaded. This is an I-know-my-lane situation, and I’ll be staying here.

I know what I look like, and I like what I see. That’s the first point. The second point is that my cuteness matters not in the slightest. I acknowledge that there is “pretty privilege” and that I occasionally benefit from it. In many cases in which I might expect to benefit from it, however, misogynoir and/or fatphobia erase the benefit. In things that matter to my life and happiness – am I capable at work, do I have a solid friend circle, can I walk pain-free, do I know all the lyrics to my favorite songs … – the cuteness or not of my face gives me nothing. The ROI on cuteness reveals itself most often in things I don’t much care about.

So, nothing particularly valuable gained from my looks. That’s the second point. And so we reach the third and ultimate point: being told that I am cute (or pretty or beautiful) does not mean I owe the teller a single damn thing. And this is hard for some people to fathom.

When I say “some people,” it will surprise no one to know I mean men, or to know that (some) men think the mere fact of them paying me what they assume is a compliment entitles them to my name, or my number, or my time, or anything at all. Maybe, possibly, it entitles them to a “Thanks,” but definitely nothing more. Those same men then get angry when their acknowledgment of my face yields nothing.

I need to say here that I’m obviously not talking about all men. If I know you, if you and I have been talking and you want to tell me how pretty I am in your eyes, I’m probably going to be just fine with that. If you and I are friends, and you decide to tell me you think I’m pretty, that’s okay, too. Because you’re my friend. Because you’re a man I’ve been spending time with. Because you aren’t expecting me to put out in exchange for a call-it-as-you-see-it compliment.

Not long ago, as I was headed home after a fun evening out, I heard a man on the train say, “Damn, you’re so pretty.” I was reading and didn’t look up. He moved from wherever he’d been sitting to sit beside me, poked my arm (poked. my. arm!) and said, “It’s you I’m talking to. I said you’re pretty.”

N.B. First: if you speak to someone, particularly a stranger, they aren’t required to respond. Second: if you speak to someone when they haven’t already engaged with you even as far as making eye contact, you have no reason to think they will know you’re speaking to them and respond. Third: while it might be acceptable to pat a stranger’s arm to get their attention so you can speak to them, it’s not okay to poke them really hard the way you’d poke a reluctant elevator button. Fourth: why the fuck are you talking to me at all?

I looked at that man. I was in a good mood. I was coming from a reading where I’d shared new work. I’d spent the evening with people I adore. So I gave him half a smile, said thank you and went back to reading.

He slapped my arm. (Slapped. My. Fucking. Arm.) and said, “That’s it? That’s all you can say?”

So much for my good mood. Please refer to the nota bene section above. If it’s not okay to poke strangers, you know it’s not okay to slap them. What in the all-encompassing, over-entitled fuck?

It was night. Not super late, but still nighttime. There were folks on the train, but no one was paying us any obvious attention. (Besides, I know full well not to expect anyone to step up for me if a situation gets ugly.) I didn’t want to set that fool man off. I was almost home. I just wanted to be home.

But I also couldn’t make myself give him my power, couldn’t smile sweetly in my fear of his anger and give him whatever he might want from me. Couldn’t do it. That’s not smart, but it’s real. It’s definitely not smart. There are too many stories of women beaten, women murdered because they didn’t give in to some man they didn’t know. I used to think my size might deter men from thinking they could take me, but I’ve learned that that isn’t true. So I know that to refuse to give in to this fool on the train wasn’t smart. I needed to balance my need to stay myself with my desire to get home.

I looked at him. “That’s all I can say.”

We looked at each other for a minute.

“I was wrong,” he said, sneering. “You’re ugly as fuck. And fat as anything. Should be glad anyone spoke to you.”

Because of course. We are supposed to set aside the fact that he is the one who proclaimed my beauty two minutes ago. Or, we are supposed to imagine that he did it so that a) ugly, fat me would feel a little better about myself and/or b) ugly, fat me would be so grateful for some male attention I’d be willing to give him the validation he wanted. Because, you know, fat women are desperate and easy to pull.

“Yes, exactly,” I said.

“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“That I’m agreeing with you.”

We were close to my stop. I thought about riding further in the hope that he’d get off soon and I could circle back home. But what if he was headed to Coney Island? I didn’t want to take the chance that he’d be annoyed enough to ignore his own plans and follow me up to the platform, to the street. I also didn’t want to leave the train at an unfamiliar station. I thought about my long-ago decision to carry a smaller key chain, not the school custodian-style monstrosity I’d lugged around for years. My current chain has only two keys. So much easier to carry, but not an effective weapon. I thought about the fact that I hadn’t had any dinner and how that meant I couldn’t use the last-possible-scenario advice of a self defense instructor I’d worked with: vomiting on myself and him to gross him out and distract him.

He stood as we pulled into the next station. “Fucking nasty bitch,” he said as he moved to the door.

I am cute. I’m cute enough. I’ll go so far as to say I’m cute as a button. Even cute as fuck. And I don’t give a fuck. What I’d rather be is left alone. What I’d rather be is free from dealing with scumbag men. What I’d rather be is thinking about my own shit and not having to make safety plans on the fly. Acknowledgment of my face doesn’t entitle you to a damn thing.

The doors opened and my would-be suitor spat in my general direction as he exited the car. Not a single other passenger looked up, looked in my direction. I rode to my stop and walked myself home.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Your Privilege Is Showing

I was walking down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, headed for Penn Station. I was in a good mood: I’d just come from a good Girls Write Now workshop, and I was on my way to a coffee shop to meet a dear friend for a writing date. It had been raining in the morning, but just then the sun was warming things, and the rain seemed past. Good mood, not thinking about the dumpster-fire hellscape we live in, just happy in my little, personal bubble.

I stopped at a street light. And a couple stood beside me. They were pretty in that sharp, shiny way of models who graduated from Abercrombie and Fitch ads five or six years ago. They are both white, their accents don’t sound like this city, but they could be from anywhere.

Him: The thing is, we know politicians lie. We know they lie some percentage of the time. Some lie a greater percentage than others.

Her: They are politicians.

Him: Right. And we know they’ve all done things that aren’t strictly legal. But the things is, they spend so much time talking about all that, they barely have time to govern, to get anything done.

Her: Good point.

Him: And that kind of works in our favor, right? It’s ridiculous, but it’s good, too. They have so little time for the real work that they don’t have time to mess things up too badly. So we just need to hang in there.

Her: That’s great. Thinking of it that way is so helpful.

No. I didn’t actually start throwing up at that moment. That would maybe have been the kindest thing I could have done, however. It would have created a distraction and would likely have made them shut the entire fuck up.

Sigh.

Never mind the nonsensical idea that politicians don’t have enough time to get anything done because they’re too busy cleaning or covering up the messes from all their lies and illegal activities.

Never mind that this man’s idea hinges on an assumed pendulum-swing that would land us back in some mystical, never-existed time when all of us were safe and happy.

Never mind that this shows just how little these pretty, pretty people have been paying attention to much of anything that’s happened in the last 26 months.

Ugh.

I want to bypass all of that and zero in on the idea of things not getting messed up “too badly.” Too badly. What, I wonder, does this mean?

Are things not messed up too badly for every Muslim person who has been impacted by the travel ban?

Are things not messed up too badly for all the DACA youth and adults who are now at risk of deportation?

Are things not messed up too badly for every family that’s been separated at the border?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child lost to trafficking and illegal adoptions because no one ever intended to return them to their families?

Are things not messed up too badly for every child who has been sexually abused or assaulted while in detention?

Are things not messed up too badly for every person raped on a college campus now that there are fewer protections and avenues for recourse for them to protect themselves and ensure their attacker is held accountable?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender soldier who can no longer pursue their military careers?

Are things not messed up too badly for every transgender person whose personhood isn’t considered valuable enough to be respected and protected?

Are things not messed up too badly for Puerto Rico?

I’ll stop, though there are so many more of these questions I could pose.

Even if it’s true that the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers don’t have time to do all the hateful things they want to do, can there really be a question as to whether they have already succeeded in doing a shit-ton of patently horrible things? Really?

If you can look at the things that have been done and undone since Trump was sworn in and think that things haven’t been messed up too much, it’s past time for you to examine your privilege. Clearly, none of the things that have been done since January 2017 have affected you, or haven’t affected you much, not enough for you to feel particularly inconvenienced.

But you have work to do. You have so damn much work to do.

First, you need to read more, and more broadly. You need to follow the social media of a whole bunch of Black and brown and indigenous people.

And then you need to make some new friends. You need poor white friends. You need gay and trans friends. You need Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need gay and trans Black and brown and indigenous friends. You need friends who work blue collar jobs. You need friends who never attended college and maybe never graduated from high school. You need friends who work in the service industry. You need friends who live off their tips. You need friends who are Muslim. You need friends who are Jewish. You need friends who’ve been stopped and frisked. You need friends who’ve been incarcerated. You need friends who aren’t you, who aren’t anything like you.

Yes, I know this is a lot to demand. It’s hard to make friends. And it’s especially hard to make friends from groups that aren’t part of your existing circles, who don’t live in your comfort zone. And sure, maybe that means you need to think about your comfort zone. In the meantime, if you can’t make a whole set of friends, if you can’t make any new friends without asking them to explain structural racism or poverty to you, if you can’t make new friends without using them as proof of your wokeness or non-racist-ness, then you have that much more reading and following to do.

I know we can’t spend all of our time suffering on behalf of people other than ourselves and our loved ones, that we can’t spend every waking moment working to improve everyone’s life. I mean, look at me. I was walking down Seventh Avenue not thinking about anyone else. I spend many, many hours and days of my life focused on my own needs. At the same time, I am aware of the realities around me, and I try to learn about realities I don’t know so well. I am neither as comfortable nor as safe as that couple on the street sounded, but I have my privileges, the truths about me and who I am able to be in the world that make my life leagues easier than the lives of a staggering majority of people. The thing is, I know that. And the other thing is, I know those other people exist and I know my life and my hope for the future are entirely tied up with those people’s lives.

This isn’t an I-am-my-brother’s-keeper situation. This is a my-brother’s-life-is-connected-to-mine situation. This isn’t complex math.

Not only did I not vomit when I heard that couple’s conversation, I didn’t engage with them. I’d been in a good mood, and I wanted to be in a good mood. I’ve already said (again and again) how uninterested I am in doing folks’ homework for them, but in this instance, it was more a case of not wanting to yell at strangers in the street. That’s really never a way to get people thinking or teach them anything, anyway.

I kept walking. I promised myself that I’d sit down and write all of this out so I could release it and not carry it on my chest for the next forever. Done and done.

Or … ? I mean, doesn’t someone need to take and shake these people? Not just that couple, but all the comfortable people who think things can’t really get too bad, that things aren’t already too bad.

Sigh. “Someone” needs to take and shake them, but it really can’t be me.

Right. Whose job is it, then?

So many of my questions come back to the same answer, an answer that will surprise no one: white people, you need to get your people. For real. You need to. And this is a full-time job, so that’s going to be pretty exhausting. Yeah. Entirely exhausting. You’ll need to squad up, make some schedules, figure out shifts. All of that. But really, the work is steading increasing, so the sooner you get started, the better.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Ugh.

I was out and about today, casual little jaunt uptown for my post-operative screenings. The hospital is nowhere near my house, so getting there is a long subway ride and then a several-blocks walk. All that traveling for the to-ing and the fro-ing reminded me of something I haven’t thought about in a while — how much people don’t like dealing with other people’s disabilities.

I remember being on the subway once years ago — maybe this was back when I first damaged my knee — and having a man shove me out of the way to get to an open seat I was trying to reach. When he’d settled in his seat, he looked up at me and said, “Well, I didn’t break your leg.” As if that somehow explained or justified anything that had just happened.

I understand that people don’t like to be inconvenienced, and a disabled person is an inconvenience. A disabled person on the street means other people have to maybe make extra room or slow their own pace until they can get past the slower-moving person. A disabled person on the bus or train means that polite and courteous people should offer up a seat, and no one likes to give up a seat on the train or bus.

And you, like everyone, want to keep your seat. So you don’t offer me your seat … and that’s when the guilt starts. You castigate yourself for not offering your seat … and you argue back about how tired you are and how you had the seat first … and how that woman doesn’t even look all that disabled or old or whatever … but there are billboards all around you talking about giving your seat to disabled people … and, and, and … and you start to get annoyed about having that conversation in your head … and there I am still standing there without a seat.

I get that. I do. We’re all tired. We all hate the train. We all want to just get where we’re going. I really, truly get it.

What I don’t get is open hostility. If you don’t want to give up your seat, don’t. Everyone’s life will go on. Yes, I might think less of you, but probably only for a few seconds. It’s more likely that I will forget about you immediately. Let your guilt boil up inside you and bubble out in the form of treating me horribly, saying something disparaging and ugly? That I’ll remember. And probably you will, too. Because it’s entirely possible that you’re not actually a horrible person. But then you felt guilty about sitting and not giving up your seat, so you snarled at a cripple … and that made you feel more guilty, and you can’t stop thinking about the whole mess for the rest of the day. Well, that’s on you, friend. All you had to do was not do that. All you had to do was sit there and not give up your seat and you could have had a perfectly unbothered day.

Today I had five different moments of someone feeling the need to be rude to me because of my cane. What the hell? Is it the moon? Is it the Mueller report? Is it allergies? That’s really a lot more than I should be expected to expect.

Do better, neighbors. Do better.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Twenty-four Short Hours

I’ve been thinking about the 2019 edition of the 24 Hour Project — about whether I’ll feel healed enough and pain-free enough to participate … and then I realized that I never got around to posting my slide show from the 2018 project! Must fix that post haste!

For the unfamiliar, the 24 Hour Project is a street photography extravaganza. For a 24-hour period each spring, people go out and document the city they’re in. From midnight Saturday morning to 11:59 Saturday night, participants are charged with taking photos and sharing on Instagram, at least one photo an hour. When the project started in 2012, there were 65 participants. When I joined the madness in 2015, there were 2,030 participants! Last year, there were 4,280 people in 850 cities across 104 countries! All of us out and about, capturing the world for a day.

Went over to the website to copy the URL for the link above, and discovered that this year’s project will be at the end of May, rather than early April. That makes it much more likely that I’ll be healed and strong enough for the challenge. It also (I hope!) means I won’t half freeze as I walk the city in the middle of the night! My dear friend, Raivenne, has been my 24-hour companion twice, and I hope she’ll join me again this year! Raivenne is the perfect partner for a project like this. She’s brave, she’s silly, she loves the city with all its curiosities and messiness, she has a great sense of humor, and she doesn’t suffer fools.

I modify the project to suit my interests. I post at least one photo an hour, but I also up the ante by adding a writing element, a tiny story created for each photo. As much as I enjoy capturing interesting images and random city moments, it’s the story-making I love — imagining the right bit of narrative to give a photo a different kind of life.

Can’t wait to get out and start snapping. But for now, without further rambling, here are the photos I posted for last year’s challenge. I hope you like them!

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It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Slipped Loose from My Moorings

In January I took a teenty tiny holiday, a few days away from my life and down to Martinique. Before I bought my plane ticket and booked my Air BnB, Martinique had receded to the back corners of my brain. It had only existed as a place French people were always thinking I might be from when I was living in Paris. Young foolish child that I was back then, I’d never even taken a moment to learn anything about the place, not even where, exactly, it was. I just knew I wasn’t from there and wished annoying French people would stop asking me.

But then someone shared a link to Parisian airfares that were crazy-low … and I almost bought a flight until I remembered how dreary Paris is in January. So I checked other destinations and found that the sale extended to Martinique and Guadeloupe. And my brain smiled. The Caribbean in January? Yes, please.

But how to choose between two destinations I knew nothing about? Yes, naturally I took a crash course at the School of Google, clicking through articles and photo galleries. It turned out to be less helpful than it should have been: both islands are, of course, beautiful.

And then I read the piece of information that sealed the deal, something so extraordinary and captivating there was no way this first trip could be to anywhere but Martinique. (And I say “first” trip because, with fares so low, I will surely be going back!)

The magical object of my fascination was a statue that graces a park in Fort-de-France, the capital. A statue of the Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, whose family was ensconced in Martinique, enslaving people and living the life. And in her honor, someone at some point saw fit to erect a statue in the capital.

<cough>

And someone else at some other point, saw fit to behead the statue. And I have to assume this artistic revision happened after the period of enslavement had ended, after Martinique established itself as a Black country for good and true. And I have to assume these things because deftly-beheaded Josephine still stands in the park. Someone — maybe the original swordsman but perhaps not — dashed her with red paint. Just enough for her decapitation to appear a bit … fresh.

I read about that, and I knew I had to see it for myself. Ticket bought, hunt for the right lodging began.

Seriously, though. If there could be a better illustration of the difference between a country that embraced its Blackness after slavery and a country that contorted itself to find new ways to codify the condemnation of Blackness, I feel it’s that Josephine statue. We don’t even have to imagine how such an act of vandalism would go over in this country, this country where we have held fiercely to our reverence for and protection of the monuments to our ugly history. We don’t have to imagine because we’ve seen the violence and swift law enforcement response to merely the suggestion that the statues be removed. The call for removals was the rallying point, the excuse used to organize the white supremacy protest in Charlottesville.

So a country that leaves a beheaded slave owner on display … well that was a place I needed to visit.

And Martinique didn’t disappoint. Josephine didn’t disappoint.

 

I have done a decent amount of traveling. Not anywhere as much as I’d like, but I’ve gotten myself out there. And I like to think I am a good traveler, that I go prepared, that I don’t further anyone’s negative opinions about Americans abroad and all that. I try to know stuff, try to have basic phrases mastered to show some good will.

I didn’t prepare for this trip, not really. I used to speak French, so I figured I’d just pick it back up when I got there, as if that was a real thing. And I did check the weather to be sure temps would be high enough for me to wear my summery-est summer dresses. And at the last minute, I checked to see if there was a time difference. That was really all I did.

And then I arrived and realized I didn’t know anything, realized how not ready I was.

Examples of this glaring not-knowing: Yes, there is a time difference. Martinique is an hour ahead of New York. I read that information, but I couldn’t process it, couldn’t make it make sense. Why is Martinique an hour earlier than New York? did it have something to do with them not setting their clocks back in the fall? That was the best I could do. The travel-Stacie I used to be would have gone to look at a map … novel inventions, those maps. They show you where land masses sit in relationship to one another. I did finally look at a map — after I got home — and saw that Martinique is much further east than I was picturing, that it is practically in Venezuela, and of course it’s an hour earlier than New York.

I knew before traveling that Martinique uses the Euro. I knew this because the cost of my airport transfers and the day tour I’d arranged were given in Euros. But I didn’t bother to understand why Martinique — a small Caribbean island — would use European Union currency. It seemed odd, but I didn’t dwell on it. After I arrived and started getting to know my host, I learned that Martinique is considered France. Not a colony, not a territory or protectorate, but part of the country of France. It is one of the official departments (states) of France. What? Seriously? My brain is still wrestling with that. This tiny, shining spot in the Caribbean is part of the EU. Not EU-adjacent, but the EU. Full stop. That seems beyond wacky to me, but there it is.

These aren’t the most dramatic pieces of information in the world, to be sure. But they are important, basic bits of info that it would have made sense for me to bother knowing before I got on the plane. They are things I would for-sure have taken time to learn before traveling in the past. My brain really just didn’t get on the right track for this trip. So much on the wrong track that I headed to a tropical location and didn’t bring a single one of my fans. I was sorry without them the whole time.

I’m just surprised by what seemed a complete lapse of understanding how to travel. I felt as if I’d been asleep from the moment I booked the trip to the moment I arrived in Fort-de-France.

And I’m realizing as I write this that one of the things I didn’t do before my trip was have travel anxiety dreams. Seriously. Every time I plan a trip, I have dreams that feature the parts of my travel plan that haven’t been arranged and settled. I’ve had dreams where I’m on the plane and realize I don’t have my passport. That kind of thing. But I had none of that before this trip. I think I had too many things to focus on between booking and traveling and, in some way, my brain forgot about Martinique. Despite the fact that I was telling everyone I was going on this trip, my brain treated that like random small talk, didn’t let the information take any space in my active consciousness. Weird.

Weird, and I hope that doesn’t happen for trips in the future. I was so disoriented in Martinique. “On the back foot,” as old-timey novelists would have said. I had a lovely trip, but I kept feeling more than a little off, couldn’t shake the sense that I was lost, unmoored. So very odd.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

A heart full of music.

I have two concert subscriptions at Carnegie Hall. This fact is evidence of a tendency to overindulge, a tendency to want to be a patron of the arts even with my meager budget, a tendency to not be able to choose between two good things.

Tonight was the Philadelphia Orchestra, the second of the two subscriptions I’ve been buying the last few years. My friend and I have box seats in the second tier. Box seats are very fancy, to say the least. Mostly for me the seat represents not having to squeeze into auditorium seats, not having to get up every time someone wants in or out of the row. Having my own freestanding chair is a luxury I am willing to afford. It makes being comfortable for the whole performance possible. Also, it’s totally fancy. Natch.

It’s also unexpectedly familial. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d see some of the same people show after show, that there would be other repeat subscribers just as my friend and I are repeaters. Three of the seats in our box are not subscription seats, and we see different folks in those chairs every time. The other four box members are regulars, they’ve been there longer than we have. And the gentleman who sits in front of me has adopted us. When I walked in tonight — only moments before the show began! — he gave me such a nice welcome, like i was an old friend or a favorite niece. I was charmed and pleased.

I love this orchestra. They always make me happy. I love their tiny dynamo of a conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. He is a powerhouse, an explosion of passion, enthusiasm, intensity, and joy. If I expended the kind of energy he does every performance, I would need three days’ sleep after every show.
Nézet-Séguin clearly loves his players as much as he totally loves the music. His obvious pleasure in their excellent performances is lovely to watch. And the musicians respond so wonderfully to him. I love spotting the little moments when one will catch his eye during a performance. I can almost see the electrical connection flash between them.

I had to miss the first concert of this season’s subscription because I was traveling for work. So tonight was my first show of the season. As usual, it filled me up with wonder and joy.

Having these subscriptions is an indulgence. An indulgence that feeds my soul. Worth every penny.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Close to Home

Last week I gave a workshop for young women in a close-to-home program. I thought I understood every part of what I just wrote, but it turned out that my understanding was way off the mark.

Because of the work I do, I’ve gotten used to the definition of “young adult” being 16 – 24 years old. That’s the age range used for the kinds of programs that are funded to support “out-of-school youth” and “disconnected youth” and “opportunity youth” … and whatever other names we choose to give young people whose circumstances have made the transition to adulthood more difficult. These are the young people I taught in my basic education and high school equivalency classes years ago. All of the students I wrote about in those days fell into this 16-24 category. The range is fairly well cemented in my head.

“Close to Home” is the name of a juvenile justice initiative that focuses on keeping young people close to their families and communities rather than sending them to detention facilities that are too far away for their families to visit them easily. I don’t know if these programs exist in other states – though I hope they do – but we’ve had them in New York since 2012. Before leaving my last job, I attended an info session/focus group discussion about close to home programs. One of the community organizations we worked with was about to open a residence in the neighborhood and wanted other providers to know about the residence, understand what the program would look like, and offer possibilities for partnership in providing services to the young people who would live in that home.

As it happens, the definition of “youth” in the Close to Home model is very different from the one in my head and at my office. In New York City, Close to Home has enabled the City to completely eliminate prison for kids under 16 by placing them in group residences near their home neighborhoods.

Right. Young people isn’t the same as young adults. Not by a long shot. I wasn’t at all prepared for such young girls. The girls in my group were 14 and 15, and that was definitely not who I was expecting to meet. The workshop I prepared was, luckily, adaptable enough, but adjusting my brain wasn’t so . You just don’t talk to 14 year olds the way you do to 24 years olds.

The bigger misconception for me was what it meant for these young people to be living at this Close to Home group residence. I kept being surprised by my surroundings. Surprised by the level of security, surprised by how monitored the young women’s time was. I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting, but clearly it wasn’t the same as what I was seeing.

I kept bumping up against how regulated the girls’ actions were. I’m sure this sounds silly because the definition of the program is that this program offers an alternative detention placement, doesn’t eliminate detention all together. The young people in these programs have greater or lesser degrees of freedom depending on the type of program they’ve been assigned to, but they are still serving out the time they’ve been given, they are still detained.

As I thought more about the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing, I realized that I’d been thinking of the group home as a halfway house, a middle step between incarceration and re-entry. In some ways, I suppose that is a function of the Close to Home group residence – the girls aren’t going to have to transition from a prison or from being cut off from their families – bu t there are constant reminders of the fact that the girls lives aren’t their own.

Realizing my halfway-house confusion highlighted that I have a lot to learn about this program. For example, what is the relationship between local police and these residences? When I arrived to give my workshop, there were police on-site, called because there was some disturbance with one of the young people. In the end, they took that young person away with them, which was incredibly disconcerting to me … and even more disconcerting once I fully understood the reality of the homes as a form of detention. If you are already detained, what does it mean to have the police called to further police you?

Certainly I think it’s better to have young people – and ones who are so young – detained near their families. The girls in my group all talked at one point or another about family visits that had happened since they’d been placed in the group home. That is better than their families having to miss work days to travel upstate or not be able to take that off time and wind up not visiting as a result. And the group home is better than local incarceration, too. The memory of my one visit to a prison tells me that. The horrifying vibe I got from the male guards at that facility makes me happy the too-young people I met – those children – clearly don’t belong in a prison environment.

So yes, better than regular incarceration … but still distressing. Doesn’t there always have to be a better option for children than jail? And yes, I’m asking that seriously, even as I watch this country imprison thousands of children, watch this country force infants and toddlers to represent themselves in court. And yes, I know all the reasons that its it’s easy to consign these children – these brown and Black children specifically – to prisons and detainment facilities. I know. I still have to ask the question. Have to.

Two hours. That was the entirety of my experience with that residence and those girls. It was enough to leave me with all this to puzzle over. I stay having so very much to learn. Sigh.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.