Flagstaff

I’m sitting at a desk in Flagstaff, Arizona. I can hear the noises of construction outside—the way a building can groan under repair, the sounds that only improvement elicits from aging walls. I like Flagstaff. The mountains, the chill in the air, the proximity to the Grand Canyon—these are all part of the allure. But what I love most about this town is the train station.

Along historic Rt. 66, three blocks from this desk, there’s a lovely and picturesque stop, giving space for both entrances and exits. Flagstaff grew around the station, the tracks cut through downtown smoothly, leaving the impression that this was never a final destination, until, of course, for many one day it was.

My server at lunch yesterday told me how much he’d fallen in love with the land. At least that’s the excuse, he’ll say as he laughs from the belly, for staying here so long. He’d come here for college, as many do, at Northern Arizona University, and decided to stay for fifteen years after finishing his degree. “It was going to be temporary,” he said, “but I guess I like it here more than anywhere else.” He stopped talking, as the train rattled by the outdoor seating area. “AND THERE’S ALWAYS THE TRAINS.” I nodded, noting how his baritone cut through the squeal of brakes on rail.

I get it. My choice to stay in Pittsburgh is similar. Graduate school instead of undergrad, but what’s the difference? I found a place different enough to keep me. I like it there more than anywhere else. There are trains in the Steel City too.  I lived above the train tracks for two years, on the shady side of Shadyside, and every few hours I felt their presence. The whistles and rumbles eventually sang me to sleep. For months after I moved out, I hated the silence of my new room, streaming a different type of train track through my headphones, trying to recreate the soft rocking of the midnight Amtrak.

I like the noises buildings can make.

Ah, the hammering outside has escalated. Just as I dream of catching up on old sleep.

The last time I was in Flagstaff, I was a different person. Or exactly the same. I can’t tell. It would have been November 2004, just near Thanksgiving. I came with my aunt and uncle to sight-see, but ended up running into a boy I knew.  The next morning, as he drove me at dawn back to the hotel where my family still slumbered, I marveled at the snow on the ground. I’d never touched it before, silly as it may seem. And I had no idea the winters that loomed in my horizon. That morning, though, I was in love with Flagstaff, with snow, with trains, with the knowledge that the night before meant nothing (a thought that brought me a warm smile back then), and figuring out how to explain my absence to my still-slumbering accountability.  Turned out, I hadn’t been missed, just passed silently through the night, even as I’d felt a rumble in my bones.

I wrote about this trip to Flagstaff. Brought it to workshop. Met the narrowing iris of judgment. “How can the narrator,” a woman had said, staring right at me, “be so indifferent about the whole endeavor?” I had never heard the word “endeavor” used to describe a one-night stand with an old friend. I laughed and pointed out that these things happen. What mattered here, I thought, were the trains—the way I’d been woken by one before dawn, shivering in a bed too far from my own, staring out the window of this boy’s house, looking at the mountain and feeling the slow churn of anxiety and engine alike.

In this exact workshop, I wrote a piece about my brother’s death. It had started from a prompt about looking at a photograph. I kept this essay close, constantly editing and cutting, adding and changing. Eventually it grew into a series of linked essays. My thoughts on death, and boys, and mothers, and pain, and guns, and secrets we keep—country and citizen a like. It became a memoir-in-essays, a nonfiction novella, a reportage in lyric. In two and half weeks, this little piece will have laid down tracks of its own, heading into a tunnel I don’t recognize. But I’m excited for the ride.

None of the people I used to know in Flagstaff back in 2004 are still here.  They’ve all gone on their own journeys. I’m back here, but it’s temporary. Flagstaff, for me, has always been a stopping point. A place to visit, to see a thing, and learn another. I’m in town this time for a poetry tournament. Mostly, I’m hugging the friends I see, loving the work I hear, and missing my husband and dogs. I’ve become more stationary, you see. I’ve embraced the terminal—made a home, planted a garden, hammered my own walls.

Yet even as I write that, I can imagine my husband shaking his head. I travel more than ever these days, but I keep promising myself it’s only a different version of staying still. The way physics keeps me sitting immobile, even as the carriage is shaking its way somewhere over the next hill.

I’ve got a plan these days. I can imagine a destination. And that’s better than it has been for a long, long time.

I’m due at the train station on Sunday. That’s where my shuttle picks me up to take me down to Phoenix, where I’ll get on an airplane and eventually end up on the little train at the Pittsburgh airport. That may be my favorite one of all. It’s the one I most encounter—the excitement of leaving for somewhere different, and the relief at seeing something so familiar as I try to get home.

Maybe that’s why I like Flagstaff so much. It makes me realize how much I love home.

And there’s always the trains.

 

On Privilege

In the last few months, I’ve lost friends because of white privilege.  Well, let me clarify, I’ve lost friends because of my discussions about white privilege on Facebook. Folks I’ve known since 4th grade denounced me for having arguments that “pitted races against each other”–mostly because I acknowledged that we don’t live in post racial world. I decided after a string of these to let it be.  I was exhausted, it seemed like I was talking in circles, and there’s no way to convince people of something when they are mad determined to not listen. I think I’m getting a headache just from typing this.

The problem, of course, is that just because I’m tired of talking about it and typing about it and blah blah blah, doesn’t mean that it stops existing. Privilege exists. In a myriad of forms. There’s white privilege, male privilege, thin privilege, etc. So here’s my (probably misguided) attempt at sorting all of this. I’m mostly going to focus on white privilege, but I’ve lots to say about the other kinds too. So feel free to ask!

Yes, Virginia, there is privilege. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you benefit from it. 

This, I think, is key. When you point out to, say, a white male that he benefits from white, male privilege, he might think that you’re somehow denigrating his achievements. He’s worked really hard to get where he is in life, and for me to point out that he somehow benefited from something that he cannot help… well that’s unacceptable. I’ve had men threaten me, yell at me, and at one point call me “racist” for pointing out that white, male privilege exists. In fact, some of these men have then turned the tables on me, and pointed out that things like Affirmative Action and women’s and minority scholarships work against the white man, so how can these men be privileged when they aren’t eligible for such benefits.

Depending on where you look, the percentage of non-Hispanic white people in the United States ranges from 61-64% of the population.  If we choose to lump all Hispanics (white, black, and Asian) together, they makeup 16%. African-Americans are 13%, Asian-Americans about 5%, and the remaining are hilariously qualified as “other.”

Thanks to programs like Affirmative Action,

The percentage of American college students who are Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Black has been increasing. From 1976 to 2010, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 3 percent to 13 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 6 percent, and the percentage of Black students rose from 9 percent to 14 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 83 percent to 61 percent. Race/ethnicity is not reported for nonresident aliens, who made up 2 percent and 3 percent of total enrollment in 1976 and 2010, respectively. [ref] National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98 [/ref]

So, we’ve reached a moment in the educational history of our country in which, again thanks to programs like Affirmative Action, the college student population somewhat accurately reflects the demographics of the actual population. This is not an argument for ending Affirmative Action. This is an argument for continuing its success. Removing Affirmative Action does not mean that these rates will continue. So is it unfair to whites? I don’t think so.

Change from Within makes the astute argument that if you adjust the demographics for age, the breakdown gets skewed a bit. Leading to the conclusion that

White folks are STILL disproportionately likely to go to college despite formal Affirmative Action programs that attempt to recruit students of color.  Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students are disproportionately less likely to go to college, and the only other group with college-going rates that exceed their percentage of the population are Asian students.  But even that is misleading because to understand Asian success in the United States is also to understand racism.  After all, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act and similar policies that even continue today, for most of U.S. history, it was virtually impossible for someone of Asian descent to legally immigrate to the United States unless they had an advanced degree.  Thus, there is a disproportionate number of folks of Asian descent whose parents are college educated, but when you break down the data by socioeconomic status and ethnicity, low-income Asians are, again, disproportionately less likely to go to college!

And where are students going to college? And what’s happening afterwards?

it remains the case that even when black folks have college degrees they’re nearly twice as likely as comparable whites to be out of work; and Latinos with degrees are about 50 percent more likely than comparable whites to be out of work; and Asian Americans with degrees are about 40 percent more likely than comparable whites to be out of work (2). And yes, even whites who claim to have criminal records are more likely to be hired than equally qualified blacks without records…

And yes, blacks and Latinos combined only represent about 13 percent of students at the most selective colleges and universities — the only ones that actually practice any kind of real affirmative action for admissions — and there are twice as many whites admitted to elite schools with less-than-average qualifications as there are people of color so admitted…[ref]http://www.timwise.org/2013/05/whine-merchants-privilege-inequality-and-the-persistent-myth-of-white-victimhood/[/ref]

In order for something to be “unfair,” we have to assume a level playing field, where some kind of “fairness” is possible. Affirmative Action is “unfair” to white people if all other factors outside of test scores and schooling are equal. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Income distribution, parental education levels, access to medical care, and support for students of color is not the same statistically as it is for white people. This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions.

Hello. My name is Adriana Ramirez. I grew up with privilege. I’m white comma Hispanic, but I have benefited from wealth, education, health, and, yes, Affirmative Action. And just because I have benefited from Affirmative Action, I do not think that I have struggled less, worked less, or reaped more than my white counterparts. I just happened to get a scholarship that had the word “minority” in it. One that enabled me to attend school, without which I probably would not have attended the prestigious institutions that have molded my privileged mind.

I also know some white people who have grown up in poor, dire situations. Ones far worse than mine. White men who have struggled with discrimination and prejudice, who have been relegated to “minority” status in predominantly Hispanic or black neighborhoods. Who have felt threatened or mistreated due to their gender and race. It’s awful. It sucks. But, when you look at the numbers on a macro level, these white men are outliers. And while I do not mean to in any way discredit an individual’s experience, privilege is about the larger systemic and institutionalized experience. It’s about the fact that overall, being a white man is still better than not–despite the individual exceptions. 

What does this look like?

In “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peggy McIntosh breaks down some of the markers of white privilege. My favorite part?

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

I went to a high school that was 80% Hispanic, in a school district that was anywhere between 80-90% Hispanic, depending on the school. In my entire education, I read ONE book in school that featured Latino characters. House on Mango Street. That was it. I was born in 1983 and graduated from high school in 2001. This is not fifty years ago. Most of the television I watched featured main characters that were white. If there happened to be a Latina, she was a sidekick of some kind. And most of her plot lines revolved around her being Latina (how does her family celebrate Christmas?). I grew up in South Texas. Outside of Texas history class (where Latinos were the bad guys… What’s up Alamo?), people who looked like me did not figure into history AT ALL. Except for a mention in someone else’s chapter (what’s up Conquistadors?!).

Representations of white people continue to be dominant. Most lead roles in Hollywood are played by white men and women, because white audiences prefer white actors. What black actors there are play roles that hinge around their blackness, same with Latinos (mostly maids, thugs, gangsters, slaves, and the poor).  We see black actresses with light skin playing dark-skinned women (Zoe Saldana in blackface playing Nina Simone), we see women of color lightening their skin and hair for commercial and crossover appeal (Beyonce and Shakira). Even when films showcase all minority casts, they are usually left off of best-of lists, awards, and mainstream recognition–despite ticket sales and popularity (see Tyler Perry).

How can we go about fixing something that seems so ingrained in our culture– most of our beloved cultural icons are white, despite the fact that more and more of the American population is not?

Slate‘s Aisha Harris points out that Santa Claus should be a penguin in order to solve the issue of white culture as default.

That’s right: a penguin.

Why, you ask? For one thing, making Santa Claus an animal rather than an old white male could spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame that I remember from childhood. Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, Santa is one of the first iconic figures foisted upon you: He exists as an incredibly powerful image in the imaginations of children across the country (and beyond, of course). That this genial, jolly man can only be seen as white—and consequently, that a Santa of any other hue is merely a “joke” or a chance to trudge out racist stereotypes—helps perpetuate the whole “white-as-default” notion endemic to American culture (and, of course, not just American culture).

This, of course, made some folks sad.

 

For the record, there is nothing that suggests that Jesus was white. And Saint Nicholas was  Greek/Turkish, not Scandinavian. But traditional representations of both figures, in art and culture, suggest otherwise. And we’ve assimilated these representations as being truthful, because they are what we’ve always encountered.

Not only has white culture rewritten history, become a dominant force in our country, but it’s also borrowed from other cultures in what can only be called appropriation.

So Miley Cyrus appropriates black culture. Lana del Rey appropriates Latino culture. Gwen Stefani appropriated Japanese culture, as does Katy Perry. The very notion that someone can “dress” or “dance” as a person from another culture seems outdated. When folks dress like a “Mexican,” it sort of baffles me. Because what they are actually dressing up as is a caricature that’s rooted in racism or in a particular subculture that does not speak to the whole. To me, dressing like a “Mexican” involves wearing clothes, because I’m Mexican. Today I’m wearing jeans, a Mountain Goats tshirt, and a fleece my ex got me a REI. So Mexican it hurts.

Miley says she’s not appropriating (so do the others). But I think that her appropriation is not for her to determine. If others look at, say, Julianne Hough’s blackface during Halloween and see something offensive, whereas she only sees an homage to her favorite TV character, that doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. There are larger, cultural histories and institutionalized offenses at work here. If it’s offensive to the person receiving the message, does intention matter?

Which brings me to the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (the logical transition, of course). One of the characters said something racist on TV and then defended herself by saying she wasn’t racist. Here’s what she wrote on her blog:

First and foremost, I really do want to sincerely apologize and say I am truly sorry for the insensitive joke I made about Joyce not getting in the water and to anyone of my friends or fans of the show I offended…

To start off, I have been in several romantic relationships over the years with African American men and still have close relationships with those ex-boyfriends even now. For over 20 years now, I have had girlfriends from pretty much every ethnical [sic] background. Sometimes (actually a lot of times) these girlfriends and I joke inappropriately with each other. These jokes are clearly not ready for TV.

I married and have two children with a Cuban man whose parents were both born and raised in Cuba, and I consider my children to be multi-racial. I am not a racist and I apologize for my insensitive joke…

All of that being said, I hope you see that although it didn’t go too well, I was just trying to be funny — as I always try to be. Life is not worth living if you can’t laugh with your close friends. In the future, I will remember in to hold back with people who I now see are only looking to take me down so that they can have a something for themselves.

This to me sums up the worst of white privilege in a nutshell. This woman (who I refuse to name) doesn’t see how her comments were racist. She doesn’t have to be racist for her comments to hinge on racism. She can shag all the people of all the races (also, Cuban is not a race), that does not mean that she isn’t perpetuating an understanding of the world that is rooted in racism. That doesn’t mean she isn’t benefitting from white privilege in her assumptions and in her actions. She was trying to be funny. And her humor stemmed from something much bigger and nastier than the comment she made.

“Life is not worth living if you can’t laugh with your close friends” implies that the problem is how people received her comment. Not that she made it. For once, just for once, it’d be nice to read a real apology. Something along the lines of “what I said was based on ignorance and my own white privilege. I’m sorry–I lacked the awareness to realize how my speech can hurt people, behind closed doors or in the open, as my comments were informed by racism.” I’m not asking white people to stop being white, to stop benefiting from privilege–I’m simply pointing out that a bit of awareness can go a long way in preventing folks from perpetuating the ugliness associated with our complex history.

The best part? She’s somehow the victim by the end of her letter. And she’s not alone. From the white man who yelled at me about Affirmative Action to Miley to this woman, to all the instances that happen daily to people of color (microaggressions, indeed), there’s a strange culture of denial happening around white privilege. Like we just don’t get the joke.

So here’s a better joke.

On Turning Thirty

When the wave of emotions hits me, I inhale sharply, as if breath could divert the onslaught of feelings alone. But, catharsis is impeded, blocked, contained by a knot in my throat. In this way, I am not special. Many people experience their emotions physically. But not everyone. For some people, emotion is something that comes and goes. Something controllable. Like a switch.

Anger, sadness, confusion, hurt–all these feelings manifest themselves for me as acute physical reactions. As do joy, happiness, excitement, and fear. My endorphin system goes haywire constantly and consistently–this has always been true of me. When I was a kid, and something got to me… I couldn’t help but feel it. All of it. The unsettled peach pit of my stomach. The panic that there’s something I’m not saying or doing or getting right. The idea that I can say something or do something that makes it better, if only I could figure it out. The rush of giddiness and tide of excitement that would wash over me. The crazy smile of intense satisfaction I could not turn off. I used to get these rashes on my forehead during moments of intense feeling, good or bad. As if my body itself beamed over the rush of hormones and adrenaline that tended to saturate my every thought. This hasn’t changed much today–I drown in emotions. Parts of me will rationalize, it doesn’t matter that you got made fun of, it doesn’t matter that you fell, it doesn’t matter that you won, it’s not good to be smug when things go well… but the knot in my throat will prove impervious. A dam that keeps me flooded. Reminding me. Pushing me to value emotion over logic. I can’t let go until things run through completely. Until my chest stops pounding. Until my breathing gets right. Until the niggle dissipates. Then I can re-slide into neutral. Okay, reason and logic, where did you go again?

Memory: Summer of 2000. My friend Erin and I swim in a pool. I complain about my parents, like all incoming high school seniors do. Why, she asks, do I even care what my parents think of me? Why can’t I be like a duck, and just let it go? She swims in imitation of a duck, showing how the water just glides right off. See, be like a duck in water. Just let it all wash right off you.

I always thought that this physical connection to my feelings would go away as I got older. That I would grow up into someone cool, calm, sophisticated. The kind of woman who wears chic perfume and doesn’t care about naysayers and pesky things like feelings. That I would part my hair on the left, collect ash marks on the sleeves of my silk shirts, and let everything go. Like a heavy stone dropped into an unfathomable lake. Yes, I longed for ennui. For release from the interminable prison of self-doubt and obsession.

But that’s just not who I am.

Yesterday, I turned thirty. Thirty, several people told me yesterday, is the new twenty. Your twenties, someone else said, are so fraught with hurt and confusion, that’s why thirties are awesome–you know who you are. So who am I?

Jean Valjean? I wish! That guy at least had a plan.  [ref]If a lifetime of mayoral impersonation, running from a law-man named Javert, and raising your starved-to-death employee’s daughter as your repressed own is a plan–and it is.[/ref]

I am an Adri. Utterly flawed and full of mirth. Feeling too much for my own good. But feeling has done me good. The kind of good that comes from suffering. From having experienced. Lived.

Memory: 2010. The poet Patricia Jabbeh Wesley reads at Pitt. I am in the audience. At the end of the reading, I am so moved by her words, I sneak up, trying to figure out how to put all the feelies into words. [ref]Movies were once called “talkies.” My feelings are called “feelies.”[/ref] “Your poems,” I say, “they were brilliant!” And I smile my biggest “you write brilliant poetry!” smile and hope she knows how sincere I feel about it, how incapable my words are of articulating everything happening inside me because of her. She just looks at me and says, “You are alive.” She turns to the woman next to her. “This one,” pointing at me, “this one is alive. I can tell.” And I know, I know exactly what she means. “I feel.” I say. She nods. We understand each other just then.

When I turned twenty-nine, I was in the middle of a hailstorm of emotion. My boyfriend of almost eight years left me. My health and mental health took a turn for the worst, and I found myself having an honest to goodness breakdown. The feelings were too much. During this time, my ex blamed me. For feeling too much. For not being to let go and move on as quickly as he had. For drowning slowly in a pool of my own making. I tried. I tried to be as normal as I could. With my forehead aflame and my duckish qualities faltering.

Instead, I isolated myself from the people I shouldn’t have. Pushed friends and family away, went a little mad, and thought it better to face it all alone. I didn’t call. I didn’t write back. I decided that my feelings were too much. That I needed to teach myself how to glide. But I realize, after lots of therapy and good friends who didn’t let me disappear, that that’s wrong. That there’s nothing wrong with feeling.

This year will be about rebuilding. Reconnecting with friends I let float away. Answering emails that have been lingering too long in my inbox. Trying to learn from myself, from my life. I’ve learned that the initial nouns of love are not the same as the verb of love.[ref] Edor Nehorai does a great job of describing this in the Huffington Post.[/ref] That there are two ways to reacting to another’s disappointment: you can rise and do your best to no longer disappoint, or you can resent the other for expecting things of you. I’ve learned that I’m more the former than the latter. I will keep trying, even when there’s no point in trying. I firmly believe there’s no one so gone that they can’t be saved. I feel it, in my gut.

Memory: Summer 2013. A boy holds my hand for the first time.[ref]That he and I held hands. I have held hands before, people.[/ref] I like the way your skin feels, he whispers, I like the way it warms up. I try to apologize for the incoming sweat. Oh god, I think, my stupid body needs to cool down.“Sorry,” I mutter, “I’m sweaty.” “No,” he says, “it’s just you. I like that.” He says it so quietly, that I can’t help but smile. Oh, I think, he doesn’t think there’s something wrong with me already. And that feels good.

There are people that infantilize you. For example, no matter what my age, my father asking me to pick up my room makes me feel like a child. My father still does this. Why do you feel the need to put your purse on the chair, instead of neatly hanging it on the purse-hanging rack? I will look at him, forever fifteen, and shrug. Dunno. Even my internal monologue reverts to 1998.

Anyway, I want to say that this will be a good year. That my mental anguish has receded. That I’m happier. I actually am. I tried really hard this morning to make peace with a ghost, but I think I’ve forgotten how to speak to ghosts. We have this habit of picking up wherever we left off, me and my ghosts, and sometimes that place has too many feelings to ever do it properly. Perhaps that’s why I call the people who’ve left me–old friends and lovers past–ghosts. I can’t bury them, they still haunt me a little–some friendly and some not so much. I prefer it this way, though, it keeps me humble. I don’t like people who pretend they can start over from scratch. I don’t start over, I simply build and learn.

I love hard. No doubt. I fight hard. I succumb to impulses good and bad. I say yes to danger. I jump off cliffs even though I’m terrified of heights. The thrill of it all. I’ve let myself feel abandoned, depressed, worthless. I’ve felt elation, and yes, alive. I can die knowing that I fought too much, gave too much, and never settled for something because it was easy. I make hard choices. I feel for others. I empathize, I sympathize, I go beyond that and really try to understand. It’s how I can forgive. Even what to others is unforgivable. It’s how I apologize without thinking that an apology is compromise. Apologizing is not admitting I did wrong, it’s knowing that what I did hurt someone else’s feelings, and acknowledging I could have avoided that. By seeing the feelings involved. It’s how I slowly, but difficultly, move on. By allowing myself to experience all of it. The ups and the downs, and while I’ve made the mistake of retreating inward or striking outward when the emotions got too hot, I’m hoping this year to harness my feelings into good. To make something of it all.

I feel.

It’s what I do best. It’s who I am. It’s why I am.

I tell stories for a living. I imagine possibilities from raw material. I am a sculptor, moving clay in my fingers, making manifest what’s only now a flicker in the mind. I am poised, ready to chip away until I make something beautiful out of what could only be wet dirt to another.

I’m just waiting for the feeling to strike. Hopefully it strikes hard. I think I can take it. I am thirty, after all.

 

Can Grammar Solve Politics?

The answer is no. Duh.

But it can provide an interesting lens through which to view political rhetoric. On Tuesday night’s presidential debate, moderator Candy Crawley corrected Mitt Romney when he attempted to catch the Prez in a lie over having used “act of terror” in a speech regarding the attack in Libya. [ref]okay, for a piece about grammar, that’s a complicated sentence. Apologies to all.[/ref]

In reading my Google News feed earlier today, an article on Fox News caught my eye–a piece by Judith Miller entitled “Crowley’s intervention as moderator-in-chief swung the debate in Obama’s favor.” The argument at the heart of the essay/journalistic endeavor is that in the Rose Garden speech in question, the President’s use of “act of terror,” was in fact “acts of terror,” and far more generic in meaning. He was not, Fox News contends, clearly referring to Benghazi–he could simply be referencing 9/11 or other, more general, acts of terror. And in confirming that he indeed referred to Benghazi as an “act of terror” in that speech, Crawley’s intervention was interpretive and not necessarily factual. Here, before I totally ruin any credibility I have as a grammar person, [ref]too late[/ref] I’ll let Judith Miller explain.

Then he went on to praise the Libyans for helping save others under attack and lauded the victim, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Three paragraphs later, he said he had been to a memorial to commemorate 9/11 and paid tribute to those who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan. And a paragraph later, he added: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

Was Obama’s use of the term “acts of terror” referring to 9/11 and the other militant Islamic attacks that have plagued America for so long? Or was he referring to the murders in Benghazi as “acts of terror?” Fair-minded readers may disagree. Even CNN’s own John King said that Obama’s statement struck him as a “generic” comment about terror, and not specifically a decision to label the Libya attack a terrorist act.

Now, as someone who cares about grammar, [ref]mostly because I misuse it terribly. again, we have a complicated relationship[/ref] I believe that the use of the word “act” in the sentence containing “that justice is done for this terrible act” clearly refers to Benghazi as the “terrible act” in question, which then designates this “act” as a specific example of the more generic “acts” in the previous statement. “No acts of terror” such as “this terrible act.” The second reference to the word confirms its inclusion, and thus, Benghazi is, by association, one of many “acts of terror.”

Bam.

There you go, Candy Crawley. Your “biased” intervention has the support of Grammar Logic. [ref]trademarked![/ref]
But we all know grammar is elitist.

No one wants to elect a grammar nerd to the Oval Office. It wouldn’t be right. And it wouldn’t solve a thing.

Or would it? [ref]This is just to say: the top image was shamelessly stolen from the New York Times website without permission. Forgive me. It was delicious. So sweet and so cold.[/ref]

Words, Words, Words—mere wind, sir

I’m actually, actually, finishing my book this summer. The book I’ve been writing and reading from for (gulp) five years now. 1)Whatever, plenty of books take more than five years.

Going through it has been an act of nostalgia (“I remember writing that!”) and an act in self-deprecation (“Oh, that’s so overwritten!”), but I’m learning that writing a book, a good book (I hope), takes patience, tenacity, and self-discipline—all of which I naturally lack.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading roots. How sad I am, for example, that the old, ugly McAllen library has been closed.

I only say ugly because the new library is so pretty. It’s won awards for its prettiness. My friend Carolyn wrote about it in the L.A. Times (for Jacket Copy, the book blog). She interviewed me about it, and then Gawker picked up the story, and now a few friends from high school have texted, wondering if the Adriana Ramirez mentioned in the piece is me. It is me. I’m not famous. I’m just a citizen and friend of journalists who pointed out the proximity between a building and the violent border.

But then again, I write about violence. Drug violence. Border violence. The violence of change and time. Like my book. The one I’m finally finishing.

George Bernard Shaw said it best in Dark Lady of the Sonnets, “Words, Words, Words—mere wind sir.” He’s making fun of Shakespeare when his character says the phrase, but I can’t help but imagine all the words I’ve typed and read in my lifetime fluttering around me, gaining speed, and funneling themselves into a cyclone. Wind can be violent too.

My parents would drop me off at the old library on Main street, and at my request they’d leave me there for hours lost in stacks, and always amazed that so much information could be contained within those walls. Of course, I’d read:  Many inappropriate things for a child, usually in the Adult Large Print section, but I learned a lot about myself, about culture, about desire and intrigue. I read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books in 1996. I knew about sex from the Thorn Birds and about sexy machinations from Ken Follet. I typed, typed!, on the typewriters on the second floor all my applications for college, thinking my  handwriting too unprofessional for a first impression. Painstakingly tapping out  my personal statement, keystroke by keystroke, not wanting to make a mistake and have to start over or brave the  unsightliness of correction tape. I remember locking myself in study rooms and following IMDB trails for hours on the borrowed computers. And sure, it’s all there, but it’s in another building. The place I remember no longer exists. And years from now, the new library will just become “the library,” and the old one will fade into memory.

And while I can’t stop myself from being sentimental, I can certainly control how deep wade into the remembrances of the old building 2)just a little, I swear. I’m not going to lie, there’s something beautiful about an old library. Knowing that books have been there for well over fifty years 3)the old library was built in 1950, that some  librarians probably have too. The Main Street library taught me how to use reference books, how to look things up on microfiche, how to feel like a detective and a journalist before I ever knew what either of those professions really were. Community libraries serve as monuments to our pasts. And the buildings that house these monuments symbolize just as much. Architecture that has withstood change and circumstance can make knowledge feel  more permanent, and when you enter a building like that, one that bears the imprint of time as well as its books bear the imprints of obscure presses, one cannot prevent succumbing to acts of nostalgia and self-deprecation. We remember who we were, we remember our felt potential. And how we grew, moved on, and left the shells of our past behind us. Like that beautiful, old building. Even though it’s ugly next to the new.

If words are wind, then libraries are hurricanes.

References   [ + ]

1. Whatever, plenty of books take more than five years.
2. just a little, I swear
3. the old library was built in 1950