Category Archives: Personal

Accent

Scene: A couple weeks ago, at my desk at work. A woman from another agency calls. We have a brief conversation where she asks to talk to a colleague. I think to myself, “Huh, she sounds like the people I went to high school with.” She is also from Central New York.

Right. The Syracuse Metro, despite its denial, has an accent. I never noticed it until someone else spoke to me from Syracuse after three years immersed in Buffalo.

I’m hardly displaced, residing a whole two and a half hours from my family and the hospital I was born in. Regional distinctiveness is a thing, an incredibly provincial thing, a thing that exposes itself in the sounds of the words falling out of my mouth. I did not even notice.

About a week ago, I sat on the porch of my parents’ home, delighting my mother who was hearing that some of the words I say aren’t Syracuse at all. I’ve unwittingly picked up some quirks of her (faded) New York City accent. Orange. Door. The sound of my A’s. I never lived in New York City, but growing up with her was enough. Growing up, I never heard the accent in my mother’s voice – an accent is just a mark of difference from what you think is going to be normal.

I’d never even noticed the Syracuse version until a couple weeks ago. It was normal.

You don’t notice the deviation unless your idea of normal changes.

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Filed under Buffalo, Central New York, Personal

No further

I walk alone at night to resist the patriarchy, and all of the discourse that suggests my most feminine trait is being a target for violence. These memes create expectations. Fear becomes the expected behavior, couched in folk wisdom; of course you wouldn’t walk outside at night. Of course you should stay inside. It’s safe. I refuse to be a damsel in distress, locking herself in a castle. I’m not naive; I am more familiar with how much stronger men are than I’d like. I regularly read the police maps to see what happened that was worth attempting to bother our local precinct. But I’ve walked these and those streets at 10PM and midnight and during daylight in the weather-battered neighborhoods people call “bad”. I’d be FDR’s star student, fearing fear more than anything else. Knock on wood, none of my problems have arisen from this habit.

Some of them have been solved, actually. I walk because I need some quiet time, time to think, and time to be alone. This has been a habit since I was a teenager, one I discontinued when my children were born. Kids, you know, they don’t sleep well at first. I resumed it a couple months ago when I temporarily stop drinking. I dried out because I just need to figure out why was I drinking so often. Answer? Numbing, an old human story. Anyway, I kept the habit because fuck the patriarchy and here’s to helpful coping skills.

I cross the boundary out of my neighborhood. One foot after the other, down the street, over the bridge, down another road. If I continue long enough, I get to a park. It’s closed. That doesn’t stop too many people. I see joggers and college students among the lights and the historic features. There’s a pond. It’s a fraught pond, a metaphor-for-Buffalo pond, where it looks lovely on the surface but it’s complicated below. I turn off the music and walk the path. It was quiet, the birds were singing, and the stars were ever slightly more visible. I’d have bottled the calm, if I could, and brought it to you when you told me you were distressed.

I hiked to this point, quiet and beautiful. Something in my gut told me to go no further. I heard only wind and leaves. I saw nothing. I couldn’t tell if it was because nothing was there or because it was so dark I would not see it. I paused. I scanned as far as I could see.

There was nothing apparent but this uneasy feeling in my stomach. “Am I afraid of the dark?” I asked myself, What is dark but uncertainly. What is fear, but speculation about uncertainty? I do not want to be afraid of nothing. The only so-called resistance work I do right now is the rebellious choice to be calm, to be blasted by the winds of outrage – outrage that I feel too – and stay still.

There is a such thing as stupid risks. With little to gain but a few hundred yards in that direction, I respected the feeling and turned around. Walking away left me curious, and nothing more. Yet odds are, walking through likely would have resulted in me being unscathed and curious at the anxiousness in my gut. Is it a socialized fear? Did I overrun my propensity towards risk? I don’t know. And I don’t get to find out with the decisions I made.

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Filed under Personal

distilled

My love for you is water, and I am not sure that is good. It flows, it rushes, and it makes up most of what am I am and facilitates all of what I do. It has beauty. It can be destructive. It tastes like life and smells like death and sounds like an calm spring evening, falling to the ground. It looks and feels differently as the seasons change. There to quench, there to overwhelm, or to be a scenic backdrop for something else. Forgive me, love, as I’m steady in the cool, calm in the warmth, but when it gets cold, I’m sharp and hard. In heat I disappear into the air, only to fall back when the circumstances are favorable, and that’s not fair at all. All these failed efforts at climate control; you need me more lake than puddle, more river than stream, more faucet than leak when we’re tossed about that which we cannot control. All of these impurities, I left them on the bottom in my failed efforts pretend they were not there at all. I considered dredging them up to be more pure. I considered capping them with concrete to keep them safe. I want to show you perfection, I want to be perfection, as we conspire to make a mirage pretending we’re all better than we are. Alas. I own these flaws, and it’s high time I dissolved them into the rest of me in the name of sticking around better when it’s hot, staying fluid in the cold. It took me too long to understand that my love is useless distilled.

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Don’t follow me on Instagram

Right now, in the flesh, I’m wearing a lot of makeup and constantly drawing the curtains. I’m fine, it’ll pass. But you can still catch me in a highly censored way on social media, that is, when I’m not busy ducking that too.

Twitter. Argh, Twitter. It feels like my native platform, though that dubious honor belongs to blogging. I will never hate Twitter. It would be like hating the pavement of the street your formerly favorite bars are on. Formerly favorite because they went from being really chill places to this place where everyone is now just panicked and screaming at each other all the time. It’s like your neighbors moved away and sold their house to a doomsday cult. Oh, and the neighbors that did not move away? They joined the cult too. You’re cognizant that there is, ALAS, always a chance that the doomsday cult is right. It’s not the street itself, for the most part. It’s everybody on it. That’s Twitter right now. I’ll never hate it though, because some of the people there became my friends – real ones! They’ve been to my house and I’ve fed many of them!

When I moved to Buffalo, Twitter helped anchor me to the city in ways beyond just standing in my front yard waiting for my gregarious neighbors to talk to me could. Which, by the way, I do live in the City of Good Neighbors, that strategy will more or less work. At least until the population of gregarious neighbors declines because the renters become homeowners somewhere else. Then YOU have to be the gregarious neighbor. “Could you just crawl out of your ennui long enough to say hi to the kind people who live around you,” I ask myself, as I duck behind the curtains, again. There goes the neighborhood. I digress. The point is that social networks can take suggestions from stock brokers: diversify. Go meet people in different contexts.

So! Hey! Diversify! Let’s talk those other internet networks. I’m already on the amazing universal baby photo album that is known as Facebook (READ: I WANT TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF YOUR GORGEOUS INFANTS), and that too comes with a bonus of existential political dread! Dread, just what I need on my already excessively-taxed emotional resources. So I take it in the way one takes medication with really terrible side effects: just enough and not a drop more. I’ll never fully hate Facebook. Listen: I got friends all over the world, and I get to know en mass what is going on. I can banter about grammar! A friend just had her adorable son yesterday. She lives on pretty much the direct opposite side of the world. Thanks to Facebook and the internet, I can tell you – he’s really, really cute. I can’t hold him, but those photos are better than no awareness at all.

I have an Instagram account. I think I started using it more or less when I found myself trapped under nursing or milk-drunk infants, snuggling their selves to blissful unconsciousness against my breasts and stomach. When I forget that I constantly subsisted on less than 4-5 hours of sleep, I miss those days. In any case, you’re trapped, and probably tired, but not really in a great position to sleep most of the time (because, if you were, you’d already be blissfully unconscious too), so why not mess around on the internet? As vast as the internet is, when you’re, let’s say, not working with a brain firing all its cylinders because of exhaustion… you run out of creative ways to find more. Also, you have this adorable little human and like a gazillion pictures of them. Why not mess around with them? And so that was my account. I rarely looked at other people’s photos.

I rarely used it as a social network until around the New Year. I do mostly like it. So I got friends there, and did you know that there are artists on Instagram? Did you know that pulling my phone out of my pocket is an even lower rent activity than meandering one block to the Western New York Artists Group gallery on my lunchbreak? Did you know that scrolling through my phone is 100% less likely to have one of my toddlers damage an original Burchfield than walking to the Burchfield-Penney will? (Related: shoutout to the Burchfield-Penney for having amazingly child-friendly policies. I can strap one kid into stroller and another onto a ergo carrier and show them art until I bore them to sleep. And make the docents laugh at my unconscious cargo.) What I’m trying to say is that even though I have stupid-easy access to a lot of art, the good capitalist in me always wants more and I appreciate the ability to do that. Thanks Instagram!

But you know what’s weird, to me, about Instagram? THE WHOLE PLATFORM IS LIKE AN ART GALLERY. It feels like a performance? I feel like I should be performing too? Seriously. The captions are so short, commenting is atypical, I feel like, since using it more, I am posting 75% of all non-hashtagged words on the website. Every social network has its norms, and I feel like I’m some elephant that’s charged through using it all wrong. I also don’t get the norms of meeting strangers? My inclination is… not to? I feel like more than any other platform, Instagram is the Durkheimian front stage. Listen: I know I ruined a semi-tolerable essay by bringing in dead French sociologists. It seems even more polished, presentation-wise, than any other medium. The creation thereof is hidden. The grit is usually hidden. Maybe that’s the purpose? Is it because we use our eyes? Is it the whole idea of a picture being worth a thousand words? Are you thinking you could have spared yourself this long essay with one photo? Maybe Instagram is your thing.

In more disclosure than you will usually get out of me, I have been thinking a lot about vulnerability and openness, and how much of one’s self you open to the world and for what purpose. There are reasons. I have what some friends have described as unreasonably tight boundaries. My desire for privacy has hindered my ability to write about personal experiences. In that pursuit, words are a precision tool. I can be as specific or vague as I wish. How do I show you my soul (Unitarian Universalist reflexive caveat: if there is such a thing) with a photo? My Instagram shows pictures in a lot of intimate-to-me settings: my home, my street, and the places I frequent. There are some of the people I love in them. Maybe this is a lack of skill, but there is more missing than even I meant.

My preferred expressive medium is words. I just want to string a few sentences together and dangle them in a way that hopefully gets the point across. It is also possible that I just am not a great photographer, I don’t have the eyes for color, and the sights most precious to me are mundane to everyone else. I am OK with that. I’m going to keep breaking the norms, because I am awkward and thus incredibly practiced at doing so. In all seriousness, I feel like the encroachment of “best practices” into social media contributes to why they can feel so sterile. At first I was thinking, “Eh, maybe I’m not great at this.” My next thought: maybe I should not be. Social media, as a social institution, seems to thrive on idea you are a brand, the way that you can use these tools of bulk interpersonal interaction to commodify yourself in hopes of being a commodity to even more people. I’ll be damned. It’s possible that feeling awkward in this post-modern era of social interaction is also a very normal thing for a human being to do. The world is changing so fast, all of the time. Relationships and interaction come in bulk now, of course that will be overwhelming. We want to be our best, of course we polish our presentation. This is just the public showing up in my pocket, the low-rent way to get the equivalent of going out dressed nicely. I suspect my Instagram burnout will be less fear of encroaching dystopia driving me away from other platforms and more fatigue of being in another place where I ought to look good.

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Filed under Dystopia, Personal

Getting Kicked Out of The Croatian Club

I want to tell you this story because it’s so Buffalo, and Buffalo is the unifying theme of my life right now. Buffalo isn’t my hometown. I grew up two hours away, meaning I have a very similar cultural background but none of the local history is woven in with my own personal history. People can care about that around here, meaning my experiences are slightly flavored with being an outsider. I am from Syracuse, so consider them salty. But “not my hometown” is different than “not my home”. I am here. My husband and kids are here. I am weaving my life around the web of networks that already existed.

My friend turned 30 and she chose to celebrate by having her friends ride the bus, the Giant, Centrally Planned Uber, if you will, to a bar crawl. All bars were notable places. I was just there for the ride. Riding the bus to a bar is the closest thing I’ve got to reliving my fading youth. Why not mark mortality that way? It was evening, I gave the kids strict instructions to listen to their father and off I went into the bitter cold. I’m absent-minded, so I didn’t bring gloves as a way to protect myself against the possibility of losing them. But it was cold. It was the cold that hurts your face. It was the cold that makes us all tough. It was the cold that gives the city the unifying cause of a common enemy. It was also the cold that should have been here in January, not March. I had a magic transfer where one bus is waiting after the other bus. I watched daylight dim behind steep-peaked doubles as the bus passed through the West Side. Stepped off a stop early and I meandered into a Local Beer Establishment, Community Beer Works. Since I skipped dinner I became tipsy on the single, excellent stout. An American Studies PhD student and I were friendly ranting at each other about all’s that is wrong with capitalism and it’s like I’m 24 again. I belong.

We’re off to the Croatian Club via the 5. The 5 was also the bus I took in Seattle to get to work and my home from downtown; the 5 is the name of the main highway in Seattle and the Skyway in Buffalo; 5 is the route that goes through New York. So many important transit routes, and my tongue ties up which coast it’s I-5 and which coast it’s Route 5 and does “the 5” mean the bus? Nobody else does this. Most people in Buffalo have always been in Buffalo. My bus-bar hop companions are exceptions. We exited the bus, detoured into a convenience store on the edge of Tonawanda, and eventually find the Croatian Club. To get in, you walk into a nondescript building and enter through what is, as far as I can tell, their pantry. We entered a room that’s empty except for the bartender and a man sitting at the bar. I figured one of us were a member if we were going. Nah. I figured that if not, the process must not be too arduous. Well. Did you know that to join the company of the only patron in the room, you have to be a Member, a process that involves $20, an application approved by the president, and Knowing A Guy? Presumably it doesn’t have to be a guy, per say, but no strangers allowed. Some pre-existing member of some gender must sponsor you. Rules meant to keep people like me out. Three years living here does not erase that I am not from here, that whether I wish to be or not, I am still a stranger. In any case, no, we didn’t know these rules. “This is a Private Club,” a very stern, if polite enough bartender told us as she asked us to leave. My companion attempted to bribe her with a generous tip, but no: nothing resembling impulsive planning will make us welcomed.

I discretely snapped a picture of the exchange between my friend and the bartender. This is all funny to me. Usually my sense of alienation and exclusion comes in circumstances where everyone says that all are invited and welcome. Their words betray being blissfully or willfully ignorant of social signalling or boundary-making, or that saying everyone loves each other doesn’t will it to be true. If you say, “Nah, this ain’t welcoming” you risk almost gaslit denials about how the problem isn’t the criticized, it’s the criticizer. Beyond that, I’m white. I am not accustomed to the explicit act of being excluded, the unapologetic and undeniable drawing of a boundary meant to keep me out. Usually it is a bit more, what’s the word… subtle. And class-informed. This is almost refreshing except it involves being expelled into the bitter, bitter cold. It seems the Croatian Club sided with the enemy in Buffalo’s existential fight. Whatever, Croatian Club, you won this round: boundary drawn.

A friend remembered that there is a bar around the corner on Tonawanda Street, Kate’s, and we stumbled into it. It was dark and fluorescent and the bar was crowded with people obviously familiar with each other. There was an older woman with long blond hair behind the bar, demanding all of our ID’s. We obliged, and bought drinks, astonished at how inexpensive they are. My whiskey set me back $3.50 plus tip. We described to the crowd, who seemed sincerely interested in who the heck us strangers are, what happened with the Croatian Club. They were surprised? I guess being barred isn’t a common experience? A woman who did not know we existed 15 minutes prior generously bought us a round, the universal language of welcome at bars. She later comes over, and we found out that she’s a cosmetologist who looks significantly younger than her actual age. She gave us her skincare secrets. We shared the cupcakes my friend made with everyone there. We chatted with each other and strangers. I had *another* drink purchased for me by a woman a decade my senior, and I buy one for her. My friends and I talked, and talked, and talked. I was drunk, happy, and felt at home.

I looked at my phone and dashed out to catch the last bus to Black Rock with a minute to spare. The transfer was well within what I consider “close” and I walked home, betting my feet moving quickly will 1) keep me warm and 2) hasten my arrival home. I was correct. I scampered through familiar streets at an unfamiliar hour of night. I admired the big church on my way and listen to the hum of the nearby highway. I noticed for the first-time that an often-passed house looks like it’s a style older than the rest. I admired the height of the houses on my street. I feared nothing but numbness. I was home.

We moved to Buffalo a week and a half more than three years ago into the apartment we live in now. I realized the other week, while I’m in my daze, that this place became home, this place became where I do not want to leave. I cannot pinpoint the moment. Was it when I started seriously thinking about my career long term and bounded it geographically? Was it when I chose to stop taking an aggressively adversarial approach with policy disagreements, realizing the conflict was part of a relationship I might have forever? Was it when I decided to trust my next-door neighbor with my deep, dark secrets? Was it the cumulative effect of choices that chipped away at ground until I sank in? The geography of my life mimicked the rootlessness of a young person chasing work. It appears I have found some solid ground. My claim to ownership in the area will be disputed by those who have been here longer, who know the right people, who feel integrated in a way that excludes me. Sure. Fine. Whatever. I find and make the places where I belong. I am here.

EDIT: I’d later find out that Kate’s is a biker bar? Sure. Why not.

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Filed under Buffalo, Personal

the same mistake

I tend to overestimate the amount of weight I can comfortably carry. As long as I can stand with the combination of children, backpack, or grocery bags on my body, I do. I decide the discomfort is temporarily tolerable. After all it’s just a block/few hundred feet/distance from the grocery store to my home. My assessment is accurate for the first few steps, but the last few will betray my limitations. Today: probably greater than 50% of my body weight after my one and half year-old son declared “Uppie!” and would not travel unless he were on my shoulders. This after I had purchased groceries banking on him not doing that. Kids these days. I dismounted him two houses away from my own. After getting to my porch, I dropped the grocery bags to the side and limply flopped into the Adirondack chair. I told the kids to play and took advantage of the fact it was refrigerator temperature outside while my muscles yelled at me. The acute pain subsided after a few minutes, and we did go inside after a few more.

“That was stupid,” I think to myself, but the other thought screams louder… I did, in fact, carry everything, including my son. It was hard but I was successful. I keep pushing the perceived limit until I find the real one, and I am finding that sometimes is the best way to get difficult things done, presuming I can cope with the consequences.

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Filed under Lessons Learned The Hard Way, Personal

Agnostic’s Prayer

When I was young, and Catholic, and learning the world was awful, I leaned into two things to be OK with it.
1) God is going to bring justice in the afterlife.
2) The belief that I could have some effect on far-off suffering by praying about it.

I prayed a lot. I remember praying about poverty, homelessness, Bosnia, Israel, Palestine, car accidents, people in my social networks, Africa, AIDS, people wrongfully convicted, various illnesses… I was really bothered by stuff as a kid.

As I became older, and significantly less Catholic, and significantly more aware of the abundance of suffering in the world (shout out to the adults in my life during childhood for doing a decent making sure I was sheltered from that in an age-appropriate way), I struggled to cope. Without heaven or an arbitrating higher power, it seemed that terrible things just happened, usually unanswered. And without a higher power who could bend the wills of people, there really was truly little to nothing I could do to affect a person’s suffering far away.

Then there was the whole realization that we all have free will. If this higher power existed in the manner the stories of my youth suggested it did, well it’s just sitting back and doing what exactly? Also what does an all powerful being care about me in particular, one of seven billion, in a universe so vast? Really? All of these sounded like pretty self-serving stories of a race of beings seeking to create meaning in a context of a lack of understanding of science and mechanics and how people operate. This was my descent into agnosticism.

So I came to a point where I believed petitioning a higher power was pointless because it seemed most likely that if one existed, we don’t understand it, and I’m not so sure it does exist.

…I did not stop praying. Old habits die hard, especially the stress crutches. Usually when I screwed something up. Usually when I felt inadequate. Usually when I felt like I was failing or needed to be better.

In that way, praying shifted from my efforts to right the world to my efforts to right myself, to take a minute to assess in what ways I am deficient and figure out ways to do better.

“God grant me the wisdom to figure this out.”
“God grant me the bravery to see this through.”
“God grant me the humility to admit I was wrong.”
“God grant me the patience to endure this tension.”
“God grant me the calm to get through this conflict.”
“God grant me the grace to forgive to those who’ve hurt me.”

Who’s this God that’s going to make me a better person? Uh. Hmmm. Well… Details, details.
I do not think I am actually talking to anyone so much as I am indirectly talking to myself. I am petitioning some nonexistent force for assistance to tap-into the nonexistent better version of myself. Nonexistent because I am, and always will be, just me. I belong to the universe, I effect the universe, and maybe this is one way of pausing and letting it affect me. Or I am just talking to myself.
Talking to one’s self is the domain of children but listen: they are on to something. This works.

I think my prayers are more effective now.

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Filed under Personal, Unitarian Universalism/Faith