With Her | After Her

In November 2016, the United States cowered at the opportunity to elect the country’s first woman president. She won the popular vote, but this is not what matters. With Her | After Her is a 75-day writing project meant to chronicle the days after, 270 words or less per day, one word for every Electoral College vote she needed.

Day 74: 1-22-2017

So much has happened in the last ten days. With the Women’s March, there is an insurgence of hope following the inauguration, yet reality strikes back with a type of press conference from Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway, that little toy soldier (The Hussar!) brings in philosophical (intentional?) terminology–“alternative facts”.

Listening to people and reading people’s thoughts about why they voted for Trump has me thinking a lot about methods for overcoming resentment. This was just one election. We, white people, Americans, have committed graver atrocities and we expect, we demand, our fellow Americans and fellow global citizens, to get over their resentment.

I took copious notes in my journal while watching the inauguration, I’m not sure why. It does not seem like something I’ll forget. I’ve also rewatched President Obama sing Amazing Grace so many times, I’ve memorized the entire rhythm of the performance. I wasssss was lost, but nowww I’m found.

You can spend years being lost. As I grow older, I understand and accept that more. Of myself and of others. And maybe, someday, even of an entire people.

Day 64: 1-12-2017

Stacks of manila folders as performance deception.

Day 52: 12-31-2016

5:38PM, Italy

I am not someone prone to blame the evils of humankind on a particular year. 2016, I mean. And it is not even every person’s new year. Like the English language as a first and second language, there are people who live with both the Gregorian calendar’s dominance and within their own calendar’s cycle.

That is not to say I do not understand how 2017 could be the thing with feathers, the thing perched in the soul. In Beijing it is already past midnight, does it feel any better? What does a T***p and Putin friendship mean for you?

Yesterday, at the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, I was introduced to the Vecchione. An Italian New Year tradition, the Vecchione is a giant puppet symbolizing the year gone by. It reminded me of a monstrously large piñata. Every December, the Vecchione is designed by a local artist and it is burned to the ground. This year the puppet is called “The Hussar” (by Andrea Bruno) and it is a giant toy soldier. On his choice of a soldier, Bruno says, “It is a warrior of times gone by re-emerging from European military history…from a past made of obtuse nationalism and borders to be defended…the ritual bonfire invites us to playfully get rid of any menacing guardian placed at the borders.” It is a strong statement, both here and in the US in light of current (and soon-to-be more world immigration)…oh 2017, 3017 what will you be?

Day 42: 12-21-2016

The Electoral College officially cast their votes, and T***p will be the president. This day seems bleaker than January 20th could ever be, another flame of hope blown out for so many. Not that I have any candles lit anymore.

Today, I am reading Zadie Smith’s “On Optimism and Despair”, an award acceptance speech she gave in Berlin last month. She says:

If novelists know anything it’s that individual citizens are internally plural: they have within them the full range of behavioral possibilities. They are like complex musical scores from which certain melodies can be teased out and others ignored or suppressed, depending, at least in part, on who is doing the conducting. At this moment, all over the world—and most recently in America—the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind.”

I think back to when I saw The Lion King this summer in Shanghai. Throughout the musical, I was distracted by the crowd, people opening plastic food containers, children squirming and bumbling around the aisles. These costumes! These familiar songs in Mandarin! Don’t you feel the love tonight? I was annoyed and when the curtain finally closed, I had expected a mad rush to the exits, like the inevitable rudeness of people at the end of an airplane flight; yet, as the conductor bowed from his underground court, the people stood and clapped for a long time, cordially, even more than they had done for the talented actors–much much more. No one rushed. I am not saying American audiences do not pay respect for conductors (they do), but it was remarkably clear how the almost all-Chinese audience knew who to thank for the show well done.

Our small victories in this election were true wins, like the election of Ilhan Omar, but at the end of the day, the conductor leads the entire show.

Day 36: 12-14-2016

Reading Best American Poetry 2016 and in the forward David Lehman extols the wisdom of Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” and I cannot remember the last time I read the whole poem. I raincheck diving into much of the new poetry, and I read and read again this poem. There is a such passionate intensity in the world today (then), and as Yeats knew/predicts, the worst have the larger share of it.

In the forward, Lehman mentions falconry as a “medieval sport beloved by European nobility” but it is a sport very much alive in my life here. Just last month, I met a falconer at a farm in Ras al-Khaimah. I watched the falconer’s young kids play tricks on the bird, tied on its perch, its small hood, like a cracked walnut, over its eyes. It was confused and lost, its dinosaur claws, ready to hurt, but the falconer-father yelled at his boys, and the relief of his master’s voice made the falcon’s feathers move so slightly.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Day 34: 12-12-2016

Lauren Duca of Teen Vogue compares us to Bella Manningham. I appreciate this, even though female magazines have a long history of making me (and many many others) feel inadequate. Thanks, Duca.

Trump is too smart for intelligence briefings. Yikes. I read too many comments on articles related to this new development. Someone says Obama never was the editor of Harvard Law Review? More claim, “I don’t believe in the liberal media.” Another applauds Trump for saving the country thousands of jobs and “thousands more he has not even announced yet.” I feel like a strong cup of coffee (it is 9PM), whisky?

Day 29: 12-7-2016

We are buying tea from a seller in Taiwan. Dong Ding Oolong. The seller lives on the high mountains where I once visited some summers ago. The tea I bought came in tin containers painted with plum blossoms and other red crusted flowers. It became a household favorite, and now the tins are almost dry.

My China strategy? Drink all the tea. But I am not the President-elect.

Day 27: 12-5-2016

Some good news in Austria, some good news in Standing Rock. But in my house, all talk is Renzi and fed up Italians. America’s fed ups have a backseat for the first time in weeks.

Fair enough.

A former professor asked (on her wall), “What distracts you? What do you care about so much that you would stand in the freezing cold for, be pummeled with water cannons for, risk jail for?” I wrote a short list, rolled it up, and put it in my stocking drawer. I didn’t miss the point–I realized these are the things I write stories about, these are things eating dinner with me at the table, weaving my fables.

#2. Access to education

What a good question for all of us. We must all have something we care so much about–even people count. And in those people, what do we see? What inside them needs protection?

Day 24: 12-2-2016

It is a long weekend and I am in Al Ain, rereading Lorrie Moore, of course? I think of Trump and his friends:

“Guns, she was reminded then, were not for girls. They were for boys. They were invented by boys. They were invented by boys who had never gotten over their disappointment that accompanying their own orgasm there wasn’t a big boom sound.” ― Lorrie Moore, Like Life

Day 23: 12-1-2016

We go to the desert. I am not thinking of T***p, I am thinking of the natural bounty of America. Walking through the desert grass, there is a camp smell and white remains of fire and baby ghaf trees held upright by wood.

I think locals must come out here at night. I hear the Arabic music, see the car headlights.

I remember 4th of July block parties, twist contests and lawn chairs. I hear Sarah Palin could be back in the picture. I write “hear” but I mean “read” because I am not kidding anyone, I don’t overhear “Palin talk” at the desert.

Day 22: 11-30-2016

The country where I live is joyous this week. The UAE flag colors blink from building to building at night and the main corniche road illuminates with spirited light displays, praising the country, praising their founding fathers, peace. I am happy some people can feel proud of where they are from today.

Day 21: 11-29-2016

I missed three days, and three minutes ago T***p tweeted that American flag burners ought to go to jail–or lose their citizenship. He must be mad, right? Where would the flag burner refugees go? Who would take them in? The world has enough displaced people.

The President-elect is still using the hashtag #CorruptHillary, like a seventh grader, like someone who stays up at night writing revenge fantasies in his head. But you won, so stop.

Day 18: 11-26-2016

I am rereading The Buddha in the Attic, one of my favorite modern books. I picked it up tonight because I am thinking about the Tenement Museum in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where I bought the book two summers ago. Earlier today, a story was released saying how museum staff are facing unprecedented hostility following the election results. For those who do not know, The Tenement Museum tells the stories of immigrant families who resided in New York’s historic quarters.

It is a wonderful museum that resonates with the complexities and challenges of immigrant life from the past and today. Whenever I am living in New York, I always find myself wandering there. I implore my friends and acquaintances to show the museum some love over these next weeks…or months…or years of a T***p administration.

Julie Otsuka’s protagonist in The Buddha in the Attic is first person plural. There is a poetic quality to writing in the first person plural.

“On the boat, we often wondered: Would we like them? Would we love them? Would we recognize them from their pictures when we first saw them on the dock?”

Her novel tells the difficult history of picture brides, the early 20th century Japanese woman (the “we” in the story) who were sentenced to move across the Pacific for arranged marriages with unknown Japanese men working in the United States. While writers are often discouraged from having multiple protagonists, by utilizing the “we”, Otsuka asks us to consider some collectivistic interests.

Healthcare? University? Police safety?

Maybe this book should be on the country’s playlist.

Day 17: 11-25-2016

Driving from Dubai to Abu Dhabi with some American friends, we are talking weed. Specifically, Colorado’s weed, ballot initiatives, and healthcare. The potentials, the setbacks. What Tr***p could and might do.

I have a dentist appointment for my constantly colicky first molar. It is dead now, the roots clipped three years ago, but it resurrects itself in pain every few months. I get a good washing and it dies again (for a while). The visits cost me 400 AED, refundable though my health insurance. In the US, my dental costs felt like a treat, not a right. I remember putting a root canal on a credit card and paying it back over months and months, along with my student loan payments, the interest accruing uncontrollably, like global warming.

My parents used to joke that they paid for me in cash. Right at the hospital, it one dollar and five dollar bills. I say joke, but it might have been true.

I think Wisconsin is going to get that revote.

Day 16: 11-24-2016

Today there is Thanksgiving in America, and also in the United Arab Emirates. The grocery store is full of people, the university convenience store is selling big turkeys. It is also almost UAE National Day, so the city is decorated in red, green, and white. It could be called Christmassy.

Online, the talk is unity and I buy Behold the Dreamers on my Kindle. My partner and I are treating ourselves to pancakes at Denny’s. After dinner, we watch a BBC documentary on the first Thanksgiving. We follow the English separatists from Scrooby to Leiden, Holland, to the dark hulls of the Mayflower. We never made it to America, sleep stole us.

As soon as I start Dreamers, I want to read Ha Jun’s A Free Life. I muse over my life’s required readings. What podcast of books would I wish for my country now? I remember Philadelphia’s books of the year. One Book, One Philadelphia. There was tension. Why did the author have to be black? Another minority writer? Another white writer? I read some great novels as part of this plot. The Color of Water, Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, What is the What.

Wisconsin might get a recount. Jill Stein is at the helm. I have not been feeling so good about her, or any 3rd party candidates and voters in recent weeks. What is the what??

Day 15: 11-23-2016

I feel myself slipping into normalcy. I have a freelance writing project, a suitcase to unpack, holiday cards to send across the sea. I can’t slip. I need to fight this, somehow. 

Day 14: 11-22-2016

My mother decides she doesn’t want to do Christmas. The almost President chides the New York Times across Twitter. 

Day 14: 11-21-2016

What is happening on the ground I wonder.  My wonder is a privilege. The Internet feels vertical and horizontal, like the giant hitting net at the batting cages.

The Present-elect cries foul at SNL. Alec Baldwin steps up as a thoughtful ref, as a coach offering T***p unsolicited advice.

Day 13: 11-20-2016

How to engage with Tr**p voters? How to engage with Tr**p voters? The question on the tip of many tongues. How to engage when you feel like you spent your life trying to avoid those types of people? We are told they aren’t a type. There were other reasons to vote for Tr**p. We are not intolerant. Not all of us!

In September, the UAE announced it would take in 15,000 Syrian refugees within the next five years. As the country’s National Day approaches, there is more cause for celebration.

SNL. Hamilton. Policy? Like a cat watching a mouse, stay stay on guard.

Day 12: 11-19-2016

I go to House of Prose, a second-hand bookshop tucked inside the Dubai Garden Center. For twenty-six dirhams I buy a book of poetry by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE. Continuing the tradition of Nabati poets of the Arabian Peninsula, he writes about every life concerns, including unrequited love. In As the Night Approached, he writes:

Your heart still refuses me your love,

Amidst sleep and daydreams it floats and is forgotten.

O, you sublime one, this love I bear for you is not uncommon.

It has overwhelmed many before our time.

Through his words, though the themes he returns to time and again, you meet the ruler’s heart. In  Rosewater, he asks:

Like rosewater in my palm, her broken promises lurked,

Promises are pleasant, yet how long can they hold water?

I try to imagine President-elect T***p writing a poem about love, about women. His poem is vulgar and without humility. The poem is in all caps. Each stanza ends with an exclamation mark. More gently than me, Hart Seely converts T***p speeches into verse. 

Not all rulers need to be poets and a poetic leader does not make a great ruler (Mao), but I wish America’s ruler would at least have heart. 

Day 10: 11-18-2016

The anti-vaxxer movement drifts back into the conversation, it snags on all sorts of things. What will Tr***p do? What does he think? Who did he meet with in August?

If T***p’s public health officials are anything like his recent administrative selections, I fear the worst.

Day 9: 11-17-2016

After work, my partner and I go to hear Michael Pollan speak. I am excited because (to put it succinctly) I think a lot about the relationship food has with class, social norms, and exploitation. All things I am currently thinking about in terms of the election now too.

At the end of his talk, the moderator opens up the floor for questions. Q&As are always exhilarating. You never know what will happen. You try to guess the ramblers from the hard-hitters. Someone asks what T***p means for the American food industry. Pollan says we can expect deregulation, of course. But he also mentions the state victories in battles over soda taxing.

Bernie and Clinton argued over soda taxing in Philadelphia. Bernie thought the soda tax would disproportionately hurt the poor. Okay. Soda disproportionately hurts the poor too! And deregulating the food industry will disproportionately hurt the poor far worse. For as much as T***p likes to discriminate against obese women, I predict he will not make it easier for the poor and lower middle class to buy wholesome foods and maintain a healthy weight.

In her first book, Mindy Kaling joked that dieting was her only hobby. So, if she finally reached her goal weight, she’d have no more hobbies. I don’t want to think about dieting and food choices as a hobby. The assault by processed food advertisements on our poor neighborhoods is exhausting. I think Clinton and Michelle Obama understand this.

Day 8: 11-16-2016

The truth? Today, work is too busy to think about the election. I take the time to write on a Post-it: this is not normal. I stick it on my computer screen.

Day 7: 11-15-2016

Seven days later. I read a Zadie Smith interview and she mentions blackface. It feels everywhere. She was talking about how uneven things can be. “Great and awful at the same time” and yes, this is true. This is true not just for dance and people as she mentions. It is also true for things like social media and most relationships, of course. “We zig and we zag,” Obama said. Our democracy.

Social media is being tarred and feathered for its presence in the election. It is great and it is awful, and for me, that sums up almost every popular news article I read about it. Would Obama have won without social media? The grassroots sweat it brought to the mainstream? Would we give up Obama for where we are now?

Speaking of him, I am worried about the Affordable Care Act. Someone tells me T***p might quit before he really begins. So many things feel awful and great.

Day 6: 11-14-2016

During a music theory course in elementary school, our textbook had one chapter on the 19th Century American music scene. In the corner of a page, there was an illustration of musicians in tuxedos. Some men were holding banjos, others a violin, tambourines, a triangle. The players had tousled hair and sloppy grins. They were minstrels in blackface. The illustration–even the fact that it was an illustration–made this strange scene feel like part of another world, something we all agreed was very bad, something that happened long ago.

Today, I watched tanned slender-armed white girls in Ohio (I think it was Ohio) lather black paint up and down their limbs. An athletic boy rubbed black paint under his eyes and down his nose like sunscreen. They didn’t mind being filmed. No one felt shame–yet.

Since that music theory course and the young people today, I have learned many things. Even before a T***p victory there was no doubt racial tensions were escalating, yet to see so much racism in plain sight without a peep of condemnation from our President-elect is appalling.

I regret that I find myself thinking T***p might be feeling overwhelmed. T***p might be nervous or scared of the responsibility he just captured. Temporarily, I feel sorry for him. But I need to shake away those feelings, because there are others, more vulnerable than him that feel scared and nervous. While he selects other white nationalists to be key members in his administration, kids are slopping black paint on themselves in their backyards and we are the spectators again. #blacklivesmatter

Day 5: 11-13-2016

On Twitter, I notice Joyce Carol Oats writes the President-elect’s name devoid of its center: T***p. I am inspired to do the same, mirroring what I already know about him.

Day 4: 11-12-2016

If you live in New York City long enough (and you aren’t gay yourself), you will still fall in love with someone who is. Even two people. Sometimes three. Waking up today, I see an image of Trump behind a rainbow flag. Did he fool everyone? Oh. It is dated November 2nd. So, no? Surely, he has friends who are gay. He has attended gay weddings.

I take the taxi to Abu Dhabi Men’s College. It is near two buildings that look like pineapples or honeycombs. For sustainability, the buildings have an extra layer of skin (inspired by traditional mashrabiyas  مشربية). The Abu Dhabi Louvre will have it too. Doha Tower is another take. Each hexagonal panel winks open and closed in tune with the sun’s rays. Inside, I imagine the light becomes art, just another medium. Like glass art. Molten light is rounded, diamond-ed, star-cut into shapes, creating evidence of itself.  It expands and retreats hour by hour, delightfully.  Its seasons are not four, but uncountable, minute by minute, different than the next.  

If we believe that one man can change a lot of people, inspire school bullies, unleash dormant resentment and racism by the thousands, can it work in the reverse? His light is unavoidable, but think, those colossal honeycombs shape the sky too. A former professor instructs followers “don’t tell beautiful young people not to protest”–thank you.

A man says stop talking about the KKK. Why? Because the Knights of Columbus support Trump too. This says more about the Knights of Columbus than it does about Trump.

Day 3: 11-11-2016

An acquaintance from college who lives in New Orleans writes that some students told her “they were going to run a train on me.” Gang rape. My childhood friend who lives in South Philly with her female fiancé says the fiancé’s brother is going to take them to learn to shoot.

I live in a country where Arabic is the official language, Islam the official religion, and I feel so safe. Not every country around me is safe, some are overrun with extremists and terror. A Belgian Muslim friend of mine, who really loathes America, asks me if the empire is over, longingly. I tell him an earthquake happened and it will not be the same.

People mention prayer, domestic rituals, unity. There are petitions and protests. A woman on a hike with her baby ran into the Clintons. Bill took a picture. From out of the woodwork (the digital woodwork) people are digging up articles predicting a Hillary loss. I learn the history of reading tea leaves and remember a birthday party where a fortune teller came and gave me a crystal.

To read tea leaves, you must first heat the kettle.

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