Not If, But When

I roasted a turkey last night for the first time in my life. It turned out much better than was reasonable, considering that I’d never done it before. I used the “Roasted Brined Turkey” recipe from The Joy of Cooking, 7th edition (1997). When I was a kid, I used to leaf through my mom’s copy of Joy, which was always either out or close to hand in the kitchen. I particularly liked the section where it described how to dress small game, including butchering a porcupine. Both J and I were given copies of Joy by our respective mothers—she the Christmas after she graduated high school and I as a housewarming present when I got my first apartment after graduating college—so when we moved in together we had two. We ended up keeping hers because it was in good condition and had an inscription from her mom in it, whereas mine was beat up and not personalized. 18 years later, the dust jacket on our copy is getting frayed around the edges, and some of the pages are warped from having gotten wet. Sometimes I forget that it isn’t the one my mom gave me. The Roasted Brined Turkey recipe was very easy, and the meat was more moist and flavorful than I was expecting.

Last night was also the first time in my life that I ate a Thanksgiving dinner in my own house, without any extended family. We Zoomed with J’s family for a bit in the afternoon, 29 people in 10 households across 4 states. I called my mom and aunts afterwards, and texted my brothers and my dad. I didn’t end up talking to the cousins I’d usually see, or my grandmother.

My grandmother—my dad’s mom—has been hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner at her house since well before I was born, with all of her kids and grandkids in attendance as well as her sisters and their kids and usually a number of family friends. Over time, as we’ve grown up, my generation have started to move away—me to San Diego, one cousin to the Bay Area, another to Seattle, another to Florida. As kids we saw each other all the time, but now it’s just the holidays, either Thanksgiving or Christmas as we switch off between my family and J’s. My grandmother is 92 years old, and though she’s in good health and still lives on her own, it’s been on my mind that I probably don’t have too many more holiday meals with her left. Last night as J and I set the table, our middle child said “It’s like a feast!” And it was, and a bigger one than was strictly necessary for just the five of us. I couldn’t help wondering if my future Thanksgivings would look more like this one than like the ones I remember. Or perhaps not if but when.

So much is in flux right now. Nobody knows what the future will look like, except that it probably won’t look like now. Then again, continuity has always been more of an idea than a reality. There will be a last time my grandmother hosts a Thanksgiving dinner, but there was also a first time. Things change. The desire to hold on to the past can be urgent, even desperate. But eventually change comes, and maybe sometimes letting go means we get the chance to shape what comes after.

#MatteredToMe - November 27, 2020

  1. Lyz Lenz wrote about our individual and collective failure of empathy during the pandemic. It's not a feel-good piece. It does not contain easy answers or comfort. But I think the discomfort it elicits is an important and useful one.
  2. Brandon Taylor wrote about fall, about nostalgia and about experiencing a season or a life mainly in reference to something else. What I thought was impressive is how it manages to be both nostalgic and a critique of nostalgia.
  3. I finally got around to playing the game Night in the Woods. I'd heard that it was very good and very affecting, very fun and often funny, and all that is true. I wasn't prepared, though, for how well it captures the poignancy of homecoming when you're young and a little lost, or how complex the friendships and family relationships would be. I thought it was really well done, and very moving.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm thinking a lot about change lately, change on both a global and a personal scale. I'm trying to remember that there's loss in change, but there's gain, too. I hope you're well.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - November 20, 2020

  1. Nicole Chung wrote about loss during the pandemic, about losing the comfort of in-person rituals, and about finding new ways to honor one's grief.
  2. Alexander Chee wrote about the black jeans that are getting him through. I think this, too, is about separation and connection across time and distance, about having something you can literally hold onto.
  3. Hannah Cohen wrote about her younger days as a fanfiction writer. I think it is in part about nostalgia, about community, about honing her craft. Also, though, it is about carving out a space for oneself, about making a new kind of future.
  4. Finally, I spent a lot of yesterday singing along with a song from a 10-year-old Sesame Street episode. It's a nostalgic song for me because it reminds me of my son as a toddler, but it's also just a catchy and warm-hearted song about togetherness that always makes me feel a little bit better.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me. I know it's hard not to be with people, and more and more so as time goes on. I hope you're able to find some connection across the distance soon, if that's what you want.

Thank you, and take care.

Thinking About Kindness (Again)

I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness for the past couple of weeks, mainly because I’ve seen so many people talking about the need to be kind, to forgive, to build bridges and extend an olive branch to the people who voted differently from us. As an organizer, I know that it’s important to leave the door open for people who want to find their way into a movement, that it’s important to welcome newcomers instead of berating them for taking so long. But this is key: in this example the new arrival wants to join you.

I know I’m not the only one thinking about this, of course:


The thing is, I do believe in kindness and compassion for everyone. I really do. I’ve written about having compassion for my abusers. But I’ve also written about how kindness and compassion are not the same as deference or politeness. I don’t believe that answering cruelty with cruelty is either moral or practical. Moreover, I believe that allowing someone else’s cruelty and callousness to make me cruel and callous hurts me more than anything else—only I can decide what sort of person I want to be, and letting someone else turn me into someone I don’t want to be isn’t okay with me.

But having compassion, being kind, listening, leaving the door open—none of these mean that I’m obligated to continue letting people have the power to harm me, nor do they mean that I should stop advocating for my own rights and protection.

There’s a lot more to say about all of that, of course, but I’ll leave it there. I hope you’re well, or at least as well as can be.

New KTCO: Jordanna Kalman

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with photographer Jordanna Kalman. Jordanna’s work explores loneliness, femininity and individuality, and the images are highly personal. In her series Little Romances, she rephotographs prints of earlier images of hers which had been stolen and misused. By considering the prints as objects and adding new elements, she creates a new narrative, examining the anxieties of being a woman and creating a form of protection for the image. In our conversation we discussed prints as still-life subjects, what anger can accomplish, and our mutual dislike of “mean” photography. Then in the second segment we discussed a recent Instagram dust-up between two photographers, and how it’s relevant to our larger society.

Here are some links where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript at the episode page on the KTCO website.

You can purchase a copy of Jordanna's Little Romances book as well as select prints at her BigCartel shop.

#MatteredToMe - November 13, 2020: After

  1. Jeopardy was a staple of my young life, so losing Alex Trebek this week was hard. I saw Parul Sehgal's recent review of his memoir going around, and it was such a loving tribute to the man, a balm to my sadness on the day I read it.
  2. I’ve long been a fan of Helena Fitzgerald’s griefbacon newsletter, so I was very happy to see her start it back up again after a long hiatus. This week she wrote about election nights and living through historical moments, the large and small details, and how we tell these stories.
  3. Lyz Lenz wrote “Dispatch from a Red State” for her newsletter this week, about living in a space that may not be safe for you, about claiming that space anyway. I'm struggling with staying and fighting, too, and this meant a lot to me.
  4. Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote about why choosing a path of moderation and incrementalism would be dangerous for the Biden administration. I agree, and I think she lays out her reasoning very well, and the articles she linked were also useful.
  5. Finally, Ada Limón's poem “It Begins With Trees” was just lovely. I wish I had something more insightful to say about it—it deserves more. I've been reading it over and over and sighing and smiling.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. My emotions have been oscillating wildly this week, but I think I'm trending toward resolve. In any case, I hope you can find a moment of peace soon.

Thank you, and take care.

A Kind of Optimism

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the fact that so many people voted to re-elect the President, what that means for us going forward, how the work is not done yet. And all of that is true. By the latest count, almost 70 million Americans voted for Trump, and they did that having seen hundreds of thousands of people die of COVID while the President undermined doctors and scientists, having seen the President egg on white supremacists, having seen his Administration separate families and put children in cages, having seen him do his damnedest to subvert and destroy American democracy.


What I’m choosing to think about this morning is that almost 74 million Americans voted for Biden. And they did that having seen Biden and the Democratic Party call explicitly for listening to scientists. They did that having seen Biden and many prominent Democrats admitting the reality of systemic racism, acknowledging that Black Lives Matter. They did that having seen Biden talk about the existential crisis of climate change.

We may not be able to say that every one of the 74 million people who voted for Biden supports defunding the police or BLM. But we can say that none of them were so turned off by the idea of racial justice that it prevented them from voting for a Democrat. And that, to me, shows a glimmer of hope for our future.

What I see in Republican voters is a strong current of “I don’t want this to be true, therefore it is not true.” And, yes, I understand that one can’t talk about large groups in monolithic terms. Nevertheless, movements are a result of patterns that are observable, and its useful to take note of those patterns. Again and again, what I’ve seen from conservatives is a refusal to engage with ideas that, if true, would require them to experience discomfort. Despite all sorts of available research, I’ve seen people deny the existence of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry; deny the reality of climate change; deny the need to take measures to control the virus. And there is a logic to this refusal: if these problems are real then not only do we have to make big and potentially difficult changes to the way we live, but we must also reckon with the ways that we, ourselves, have been complicit in the problems. Nobody wants to feel shame, and in that way it is understandable if not excusable that so many people would respond well to the message that they have nothing about which to feel shame.

Over the past four years and especially the past five months, Americans have been talking about bigotry more than in any other period of my lifetime. These conversations have been happening in the media, from our politicians, and in our homes and between friends and family. And we know that this national discussion has provoked a conservative backlash, one that has even become violent in its denial. We know this without question—Republican politicians have made opposition to BLM, gay rights, and feminism centerpieces of their messaging. It is dismaying that nearly 70 million Americans voted for a man who rode that backlash to the White House and doubled down on it at every turn.

But if we must reckon with the fact that so many Americans rejected the needs of marginalized communities, we must also be buoyed by the fact that so many more Americans heard these same conversations and didn’t turn away. This doesn’t mean that we are done talking about bigotry in America, but it means that we can and must continue talking about it, and we can do so with the knowledge that at least 74 million Americans watched this conversation unfold and then voted for Joe Biden. I choose to see this as a demonstration that although we are not done with bigotry, we can at least see the path ahead of us and feel hope that we can move in the right direction.

That path is shown to us most clearly in states like Arizona, where Native and Latinx organizers have been hard at work. It is shown to us in states like Michigan and Georgia, where it wasn’t the white moderates who swung those states but Black organizers who built strong enough networks to overcome voter suppression the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. It is shown to us in states like Texas, that may not have flipped yet but where grassroots organizers, especially in Latinx communities, have pushed a former conservative stronghold into a competitive battleground. As I write this, my social media feeds are full of liberals singing the praises of Stacey Abrams, and rightly so. And what Abrams has shown us is that it is possible to build a base of power without compromising our ideals, without abandoning Black and brown people—that when people come together in power, we can win.

The road ahead of us is still long and difficult. We know that we will have little opportunity to rest—indeed, organizers are already gearing up for the Senate run-offs in Georgia. But I am letting myself be optimistic about what’s coming. We can’t stop pushing, but I think what we’re seeing right now is that when we push together, we can move something even as big as America.

It is Friday today, and normally I’d be delivering you a list of things to read or watch. As you might imagine, I haven’t been able to concentrate on much besides the election this week.

Still, as I’m always saying, the articles and poems and podcasts I share in my weekly round-ups are just a portion of what has mattered to me. I am deeply grateful to the grassroots activists who have worked so hard to get us this far, especially my colleagues in the activist community here in San Diego—it has mattered to me a great deal to get to work with them.

And, in case you didn’t know, you matter to me. Thank you so much for spending your time with me.

Take care.