Monday, February 09, 2009


I phoned F_____ in New York the night of the Inauguration. I was thinking a lot that day of my elders and the changes they've seen, and of course we were all thinking about other cathartic and historic marking moments. F______ told me that she had witnessed the March on Washington, Black Panther Rallies, Woodstock, and now this. She told me, "Black people didn't do this, Karen; white people didn't do this: AMERICANS did this." We talked for a while about the Presidential Family. F______ thought the children looked so nicely dressed, she thinks Michelle is a strong woman and a classy lady, and she hopes that Barack isn't "getting groomed, like they did with Dinkins."

Before we got off the phone, F______ added, "I liked Laura, but her husband had to go. It was past due for him. I have to admit, I did like seeing that man get evicted from his apartment."

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I recently found myself face to face with a young student's hand-print turkey on a nursery wall, and his top five gratitudes were listed, one for each finger. How old were we when we made turkey's out of finger-paint hand prints? Kindergarten? First grade? Maybe Second grade? The list of five was as follows: youtube, ipod, facebook, video games, laptop.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008


In 1989 I was in college and dating a guy who was African-American (I'm white). When my mother was informed of this, she was worried for me. I asked her to explain. "It's not that I think it's wrong," she said, "but I think it's really hard on the children. I think they grow up not knowing who they belong to." Never mind that I was 18, not planning to breed, and many dates away from choosing a life-long partner; in any case my mother may have been talking about herself: In her Massachusetts of the 1950s, she grew up with the nuns telling her that her Protestant father would go to hell, but she should pray for him just the same.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008


Sign hanging in the Giant Eagle grocery store up the hill:
/// NAME: MENACE \\\
REWARD! (412) 421-xxxx.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I used to live above a funeral home; now I live across the street from one. Each place gets only the rare business, but last night I came home and their parking lot was full. On the sidewalk, I saw a sign advertising valet parking--A popular fellow, I thought.

But I was wrong about the funeral. The event was taking place across the street from the home, and as I entered my building, a group of dressed-up people were in the midst of "3-2-1-CHEEEEEEEER!" The ribbon was cut, the corks popped, the cameras flashed, and purple balloons were released into the sky. They were celebrating the grand opening of the Grief Center.

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Friday, May 30, 2008


Glancing at the television for a few moments Wednesday night had my heart unexpectedly flying and catching, soaring and breaking. Not for Pittsburgh, whose fans were 4000 deep at the tailgate party outside Mellon Arena, but for the hockey players themselves. Not only hockey, but hockey far more than other sports, does this to me: I watch the game from the eyes of a former big sister. A big sister who watched devastated 9 year olds shaking hands (“good game - good game - good game”) with the winning team in Little League, who saw the sophomore soccer goalie’s eyes reveal a split second of terror before performing scowling acts of heroism, hurling the ball safely to midfield.

Do I watch sports like this because I was once a big sister? No, I already watched sports like this AS a big sister, so the roots are deeper. I watch sports like this because I once held my brothers crying in pain and in sorrow, once watched them giggle and need help and entertain a room with unfettered silliness. And then I watched them move into scowling and aggressive and stoic and walled off and monotone years. I watched them mock the weak links and the girls and the mothers and each other; I watched them choose allegiances and move in packs. And all of these years of morphing were tangled up in soccer and baseball and basketball, and me in the bleachers. In these years when my brothers turned from creatures “like me” into “men,” I watched helplessly from the sidelines; the morphing was its own spectator sport.

Hockey (which wasn’t part of my youth) moves me more than the others because its shifts are so contrasted and so constant: The shifts from hopeful heroic offense to angry, edgy defense, with a barely-perceptible note of personal fear, individual sadness, and bottomless loss in-between. But this between moment is perceptible, and to me, palpable, searing, all-pervasive. On the ice the people see this: The home team has the puck, they’re gliding with speed to their goal, the opposing team intercepts, the home team slams the player into the wall, the game is moving again, there’s a near score, there’s a pile up. The only time I saw the game live (once in Madison Square Garden), this same rhythm and flow struck me as a dual-gendered performance. One moment, it was as elegant and feminine as a ballet on ice--the next second, as territorial as a street fight, with sticks and blades threatening to cut, to wound.

Territorial: The player with the puck is all powerful, he’s a legend in his mind, he’s alone but he’s gonna do it for the team, for the fans, for the city; he’s gonna make up for the lousy economy, for the last lousy forty years, man. But when he loses the puck, when he misses the goal, the fleeting sorrow I can read in his face is very young and it’s all his own. Like it’s the fear of ceasing to matter for the team, the fans, perhaps ceasing to exist for himself because he’s lost all heroic purpose. Next it’s a quick shift into pack mode, as his team works to defend the goal, and sometimes to swoop in and surround the opposing player, pin him to the wall, let him know whose town it is. Together they can protect, instill fear, together they can maim and kill.

I turn away from the TV set and remember my small brothers, and wonder if they remember me, watching.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008


My head gets crowded; I feel I am continually trying to clear my head. These days, it's a matter of competing goals, projects, desires of my own vs. the demands of others. There's my dayjob, my schoolwork, my writing life, and my publishing life, to name a few. My weekends prove too short to finish any given to-do list.

When I was a photographer, I used to complain that my head was too full of images. Modern critical theorists spend a lot of time telling us that we live in an image-driven, image-crowded world, and I believe them. The first time I moved to New York City, I found myself feeling worn out by the proliferation of billboards, magazines, and the population that imitated them: I used to say that living in New York was like living in a magazine. When I left New York that first time, I moved to Texas, saying good riddance to density, billboards, and other visual littering: I wanted a blank sky and darkness at night. I had grown up, after all, in a county that made billboards illegal.

All this was still years before the internet was a factor in my world, let alone a daily one. At the time, the only computer I owned was a Brother typewriter/word processor with a 5-line screen. It was unevenly heavy, and it had a flip-out handle on one side for carrying. I carried it, in fact, all the way to Texas (via Amtrak), wrapped in a blanket and thrown into a large black trash bag.

Today's computer is my desktop at my work office; its weight is irrelevant since it's a fixed object. It has an 18-inch screen but the size, too, is irrelevant: it manages to fit my whole life into it, 40 hours a week. The lit-up computer screen with its hypertexts, its icons, its graphics, and other illusions of coding--this space may as well BE my office. As long as I'm there, navigating among the emails and the spreadsheets, the directory lists and the downloadable forms, the websites and the Ads by Google, there is no blank blue sky, there is no gentle night darkness. The computer IS my city inhabited, crowded with visual demands and competing requests, competing desires, repeating values, and billboards at every turn.

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