serena williams, us open, summer 2018

In August 2018, Serena Williams was on her comeback tour from after having a child nad healing from complications related to said event. She faced wonder kid Naomi Osaka, barely 18 I think, and a referee who had it in for her (in my opinion). She was docked a point when her coach gave direction with his hands (not visible from her perch) and docked a game when she told off the referee. She called him a thief and said that as a mother, she would never cheat. She would rather lose than cheat. In the end, Naomi Osaka won. At the trophy ceremony, the crowd booed, Naomi cried, Serena hugged Naomi and told the crowd to be positive, move on, and let Naomi enjoy her win.

In terms of tell-offs, I found Serena’s referee tell-off quite mild. There was no cursing. (Me? As soon as I am in the zip code of getting ticked? F-bombs everywhere.) There was no racquet throwing. The speech felt noble even; the speech was that of a warrior princess in an epic opera. I felt I got a glimpse of the story Serena tells herself as part of her personal myth, the story of self she tells herself to motivate herself.

There have been so many think pieces written on this match. In tennis, a point, never mind a game, can make a dramatic difference on results. It is such a psychological sport that anything that disrupts a player’s confidence and concentration can change everything. My immediate thoughts from the match was Serena needs meditation in a big way. She was facing impossible distractions and needed a calming center. An excellent New York Times piece by Gail Collins I can’t find talked about how the referee robbed both women of a satisfying match (Serena did not get to try her hardest, and Naomi’s win could be interpreted as not a true win, given the point penalties.) A co-worker said it was too much for Serena. She was just asked to handle too much and she fell apart. A class parent friend said she couldn’t stop seeing an older married woman with a child competing with a younger, stronger person with no responsibilities and how that was an impossible fight. All of these thoughts, I found wildly interesting.

Serena Williams has faced insane racist and sexist treatment from a sport she has faithfully elevated, promoted, and given her life to. (Um, I’m a fan, can you tell? I cannot help but be awed by her work ethic. She reportedly missed a back hand in a match, then drilled her backhand 2000 times. 2000 times! There is nothing I have done in my life 2,000 times. I have blogged about it before.) She had a tough, near-death giving birth experience and she’s just an intense woman whose ambitions are going to need to adjust to being a mama. I greatly appreciate her Instagram posts of holding her toddler daughter while stretching and getting into fight mode for a match. When you a parent, your consciousness is permanently divided. You are still programmed to pursue the goals you did as a childless person but you are also now all about this child. It’s very confusing.

On another level, I thought the match was such a great demonstration of aging and it felt almost meta, like older Serena was playing a match against younger Serena. (I think it would make a great play. I might try to write it.) Naomi Osaka cried at the booing from the crowd and later said “I thought they hated me.” Of course she did. She’s a child and when you’re a child, your world is incredibly small and you think it’s all about you. It’s only by aging, you realize there’s a community, a larger context in which you have your experience. Sometimes the things you experience has nothing to do with you personally. I don’t know what else i’m trying to say other than the match and the process of aging itself feels best expressed by the rings of a tree. As a kid, I was taught when you slice open the trunk of a tree, you can tell how old the tree is by counting the rings. They are all there — the young years and the older years, and that’s how life feels. You are the sum of all your ages and they all feel fresh and they co-exist in the same time period. Something ten years ago might feel just as vibrant in your memory as yesterday. That’s my best explanation of human consciousness. It is all happening at the same time (all of your ages, I mean), and I find that incredibly, incredibly wild.

short story out

I have a short story published for the first time in twenty years. I know. That’s crazy. I started this story when the OJ Simpson trial was still going on and have given up and tinkered with it off and on since then. I have many stories like that. In fact, this feels a little like I found something in my house and sold it on Ebay.

Regardless, although I can go on putting this down, I’m taking it as encouragement and am excited that I no longer have to keep working on it. I’m ignoring the parts that scream WEAK to me. (La la la la la). What relief. Don’t you feel that way, like your head is an Internet browser with too many tabs open? It’s such a relief to close one tab.

duality

There’s a documentary playing at Sundance right now that explores the account of two men who claim they were molested by Michael Jackson. Based on reading the interview with the filmmaker, I believe them. It doesn’t bother me that one had previously stated publicly that the molestation did not occur, or that another attended Michael Jackson’s funeral and wept. I believe that that kind of reality must take years to digest.

But to be honest with you, I was kind of hoping the allegations were false. My children love Michael Jackson, I love his music. Diana Ross, who by all accounts seems like a decent human, and her exceptional daughter Tracee Ellis Ross allude to their love for Michael Jackson. He’s not just a first-rate musician and singer, he is the most incredible dancer. God, that man can move. When First Son was obsessed with MJ, Becca gave him an MJ bio for kids, and it’s a series that does not back away from ugly. The author reviewed the charges and stated that legally, nothing came of the charges, so I felt like, phew! It’s safe to love him!

In documentary, one of them men shares a collection of jewelry, gifted to him by Michael Jackson. Each piece was a gift after a sexual favor. The man’s hands are literally shaking as he brings it to show the camera. (Look, I have not seen the movie, nor plan to. These are the details that emerge from the interview.) But it’s not just a portrait of pain, which is the confusing part. These men are genuinely conflicted: on one hand, they received affection and mentorship from Michael Jackson when no one other adult was giving them attention, and they love MJ for it. On the other hand, he manipulated them into having sex with him repeatedly when they were kids. That is like the description of feelings of war in one body. I don’t know if I could take — I can’t even take it as a fan. I love his music but he destroyed children. How do people who were close to him feel? Do they rationalize that it couldn’t be true because they never saw evidence of it? It’s not just them though. None of us want to believe it of our heroes. We want them all to be good, so it’s heartbreaking when the truth is so different than what you see on the surface.

I was going to write about this weird condition about being asked to contain duality before I read about this film. As I get older, I feel like I meet people who have some wonderful and awful qualities, and because of circumstances, we are in each other’s orbit. I am asked to hold both — and it’s really hard, even though it’s so much less extreme than what I just described above. It makes me feel quite divided and gives me such a headache that I still struggle to accurately describe it.

swim

I swim once or twice a week during my lunch break. I originally drafted that sentence with “I am incredibly lucky to,” but then honestly, I’ve been swimming for years now and that initial euphoria wears off (as it should. What am I, a toddler?) I swim because I can’t run (arthritic needs) and I need something to make me work like a fiend. I will say at the very beginning, swimming was a euphoric experience. It reminded me of being a kid and playing, so I came to the pool with a giant idiotic grin. I can only do front crawl. I can’t do that fancy thing of somersaulting off the wall so I don’t have to stop at each end to turn the caboose around. (I have practiced and nine times out of 10, face the wrong way). When I first got back into swimming, I went every day and began to have shoulder pain and learned the rotisserie chicken technique! (When you front crawl, you are supposed to twirl slightly with every flap…or whatever people call that arm movement thingie.) And although that initial wonder has long since faded, I still appreciate it. I often come in quite grumpy and leave in better spirits. The lifeguards at my pool are all these young sweet men who know my name. I am among the regulars so we say hi to each other. (I have a soft spot for the seniors.) I still enjoy doing laps and looking at the other bodies under water and looking at what life is like underwater. There are people who are in fantastic shape, some are old, some are more in the middle. Most people have boring swim suits but some wear like full scuba gears and skirts (women only. One seems to be some kind of traditional Jewish and covers her entire body, another seems self-conscious.)I have terrible eye sight so my vision is limited even with goggles, but the other day, I was looking at the lane next to me, because I was like, wait, does that man have no feet? I kept looking to be sure lap after lap, and sure enough, yup, the dude had NO FEET AND HE STILL MADE IT TO THE GYM! In that moment, I was like, Tina, you truly can’t complain about squat. You can still walk and you have your health, so shut up. NO FEET. That’s all. NO FEET. That’s all I’m going to say to myself when I’m in a down moment. I’m still amazed. Life is so wild.

“how’s your dad”

I have people in my life I don’t know well who know about my dad’s condition (dementia resulting from radiation of brain cancer). I don’t go out of my way to hide it and intentionally just treat it like equal to laundry; it is an ordinary, normal part of my life. What I hate is when they ask how my dad is every time we speak. I hate this. I hate this question. It puts me in a terrible position and it’s stupid. Every time I hear the question, it’s like getting a prick on my finger, a little reminder of the current beneath the surface. My reaction is to be wildly ticked off but because I know they are asking to be kind, I have to quell my rage and respond in a socially acceptable way, but I want to be honest so the results always not quite a normal answer. I say things like “he’s rotting, right on time, thanks for asking!” or “he’s great and still has that pesky dementia!”

See? These are terrible, awkward and a little mean, and I feel like serve as a hint that I do not wish to answer the question. The awkwardness. My boss’ father passed many years before and there was a mass in his honor. That seems like a big deal to people who care about this stuff. When I asked about it, he responded rather cavalierly. “Well, my dad doesn’t care, since he’s dead.” I was a little taken aback but I also recognized the anger, and I no longer ask, because I see that he doesn’t want to talk about it. Why would he?

ask polly

I always daydream about being an advice columnist. I love giving advice, but this woman really puts my feather-light dreams to rest because I couldn’t pull off what she does. Heather Havrilesky writes an advice column for New York Magazine called “Ask Polly,” and the people writing in usually embryos, like they just got out of college and are panicked about not being special, but sometimes they are not so embryonic. Sometimes they’re my age. Sometimes they’re battling acute illness that has disfigured their face and they worry they will never find love. Sometimes they want to break up with their perfect partner because they crave chaos. Heather Havrilesky takes each letter that gets published very seriously, and her thorough answers feel empathetic and the result of deep, deep consideration. She always is quit snarky and sprinkles Kanye lyrics generously throughout her copy. Mostly, i agree with her advice, though I’m sometimes shocked at how bossy she can be like “break up with him.” I’m like really? Just straight up break up with him? But how can you be sure? I greatly enjoy reading this column and if you google her, she’s made an enormous splash with this feature. But mostly I love this column because it reminds me on my worst day that everyone is suffering, everyone is going through something, and the tender, and sometimes hardcore tough, care this woman shows these readers seeking help is very moving. We’re all just a wisp in the universe going through the same thing. (Cue: All we are is “dust in the wind.“)

we were eight years in power

I really like the writing of Te-Nehisi Coates, and one day, (one day, like next week for real, because I am practicing) I will get the pronunciation of his first name right on the first try. (“TEH-Nah-HAH-see COATS.” I got this, I got this.) He writes a lot about the contemporary African American experience, and explains how history is still alive and a tremendous factor in how they experience life. It is the kind of overview that I find very helpful. I found two articles compelling in “We Were Eight Years in Power” (some of it is kind of boring, sorry) — “The Case for Reparations” and the last piece profiling Obama.

The first article, wow, really talks about how our country has generated tremendous wealth off of African-Americans. There is slavery, of course, but taking advantage of African Americans didn’t quite end with the Civil War. There were all kinds of post-slavery shenanigans, eg how the KKK terrorized with physical violence and psychological stress, lynchings (and wait, um, David Duke is still alive, speaking at demonstrations, etc. WHAT) And even when African Americans moved north to escape the repression, it didn’t quite work out. If owning your home and voting are key factors in raising your socioeconomic status, they have been denied. In Chicago which Te-Nehisi Coates profiles, he talks about housing practices where real estate middlemen encouraged white flight by hiring young black women to walk down the street with a stroller, spreading rumors that new neighbors were definitely more ethnic. With this fear tactic, they could purchase the homes at a discount and turn around and sell the homes to African Americans a stunning profit. Banks denied mortgages in certain neighborhoods, like predominantly African American ones, so these former Southerners just sucked it up paid these corrupt real estate middlemen who owned the homes towards the day they would be able to own their home. Sometimes were able to pay off the debt, sometimes not, since the cost could fluctuate for no reason and was beyond their control. (It’s still happening if you want to look to the 2008 subprime mortgage fiasco. Not so rich African Americans were definitely explicitly targeted.)

Anyway, I cannot regurgitate everything in the article and you can check it out on your own if you are interested. You guys may already know all these things, but this article in particular helped me feel like I could begin putting my arms around the influence of slavery and the Civil War on contemporary American life, to begin to understand the through-line of history. He’s kind of one of my gateway nonfiction writers.

There are people who refute this piece and as my friend B says, Coates is not the first to make these observations. The fact that he comes across as if he’s the first to think these thoughts, I attribute to his youth. I agree with but it’s sometimes helpful to have a new face, a young person to present the facts — almost like a new brand in order recapture the people’s attention.

What I really want now is to find the Asian Te-Nehisi Coates. Is there a writer out there who has created a cohesive portrait of the entire history of Asians in this country so that I can process my own identity and the context of my experiences? Of course, some people, when they see a need, they step up and fulfill it. I don’t want that gig. Being a full-time freelance writer who generates think pieces — it sounds terrible. I picture myself sweating constantly in the apartment, power eating power bars, jogging in place, paralyzed with inaction. Writing is hard. It’s a job that requires bone marrow.

Luckily, that same friend B. had an Asian American scholarly writer recommendation me: Viet Thanh Nguyen. I’m going to check him out and report back.

The other article I liked was the portrait of Obama. Obama’s central premise of hope is genuine — he is a black man raised by a loving white mother and loving white grandparents who raised him with unconditional acceptance. In Kansas, he got jello molds. In Hawaii, he enjoyed an environment that was genuinely multiracial. Te-Nehisi Coates, not so much. His father was a Black Panther who was murdered by fellow Panthers, after the FBI planted forged evidence. Coates talks about being beaten by peers (ugh, I never want to take a punch), being raised to expect that no authority figure would come to intervene and save the day. He frequently cites his friend Prince, the only son of an African American doctor, who was shot by cops in his jeep shortly after his graduation from Howard. He also mentions a psych study that demonstrated racial bias in hiring practices by sending out test subjects to apply for jobs with identical resumes, the only difference being the white male had a criminal record and the black male did not. The white guy with a criminal record actually got more calls! (This was a seminal study conducted by a gifted young, white woman, Devah Pager, who was teaching at Harvard til this year, when she died of cancer at age 46 [my age, f.] leaving behind a husband and child. Coates sometimes mentions her race in articles, sometimes just the remarkable findings of her work.)

Obama, not having to learn the anxiety and caution you need to live in society as a black man, does not possess the distrust that Te-Nehisi Coates and maybe Michelle Obama greets life with. I found that contrast wildly fascinating — that your experience shapes your philosophy on life (of course it does). Obama, raised in such an unusual way, is an exceptional president and person. He genuinely believes in the goodness of people because the people in his life were good to him. He did not have to be suspicious, wait for the other shoe to drop. And Coates, as I mention early, still feels like a young man to me. Sure, he’s successful, married, a dad, but there’s this definite anger with Obama in his pieces, and the anger seems to be about the fact that Obama has hope, and yet if Obama were to lose that hope, I sense Coates would be devastated. He needs it so much. Man, people are complicated.

Here are two passages I liked:

From “My President was Black”
“I had never seen so many white people cheer on a black man who was neither an athlete nor an entertainer. And it seemed that they loved him for this, and I thought in those days, which now feel so long ago, that they might then love me, too, and love my wife, and love my child, and love us all in the manner that the God they so fervently cited had commanded.”

From “The Case for Reparations”

“Yale President Timothy Dwight, 1810

We inherit our ample patrimony with all its incumbrances; and are bound to pay the debts of our ancestors. This debt, particularly, we are bound to discharge; and, when the righteous Judge of the Universe comes to reckon with his servants, he will rigidly exact the payment at our hands. To give them liberty, and stop here, is to entail upon them a curse.”

xmas (first son)

I notice that I post more online pics of Wonder Twins and First Son, which is too bad but it’s only because they are maniacal stunt people and First Son is like a AARP member, like me. However, I wanted to post some minor notes. He’s been really into Pig Latin lately (and just to explain how to pull that off, you take the first letter of the word; tack it to the end of the word; and add an “ay” on it. So like if you say, “good night” in Pig Latin, it’s “ood-gay ight-nay.” It’s horrible.) and the kids are all beside themselves over Christmas. They can’t handle it. On Christmas Eve, they woke up at 5 a.m. Just wrong. And on top of that, they come and talk to me while I’m asleep at 5 a.m., and First Son has been doing it in Pig Latin. When he first did it, I just struggled. Like I couldn’t understand what he was doing at all. I was like, maybe I’m having a stroke? And then, oh god, no, he’s talking to me in goddamn Pig Latin.

The other part that makes me laugh about that guy is that he’s pretty basic in terms of a Christmas wish list. He is currently obsessed with the Beatles, so everything is Beatles-related, and then he writes “virtual reality glasses.”

Ha ha. Good one, First Son. Good one. In your dreams, big guy.

thirsty

Young people vocabulary is the gift that keeps on giving. The first time I heard the word “thirsty,” it was used by the character Molly on the show I love “Insecure,” describing a guy trying too hard to capture her interest. The try is unattractive. What a creative, wonderful word! I knew exactly what the character meant when she uttered “he’s too thirsty” with utter disdain. I so relate, not so much in drawing male attention but I get a needy vibe from a lot of acquaintances, like colleagues and other parents. Sometimes, people who don’t know me project some obscure quality on me that has nothing to with me and long to be my friend. To which I say to my inner circle friends, “I can’t be friends with her. Too thirsty.”

I sound like the biggest snot on the planet. So be it. It is a terrific word. Here are the top 30 thirstiest celebrities according to Jezebel. Hilarious.

wow moments

I got nothing. Earlier this year, there was a hostage situation at Trader Joe’s in L.A. I happen to know that particular one because we went shopping there a lot right before my childhood BBF’s wedding. If you care to read it, it’s about this remarkable artist who was one of four people in the store who talked the gunman down. She introduced herself, she got to know him, and she advocated for him. At one point, she could see a sniper take aim at the gunman’s body and she blocked his body with hers. When her husband texted asking if she was okay, she said, yes, but was busy. What she said in the article was she did not blame the police for their actions at all, but at that point, she had gained his trust and had diffused the situation. When he said he wanted to speak to his girlfriend whom he had shot earlier, she insisted upon it with the police. She talked him into turning himself in and she promised him she would visit him in prison, that he could still lead a meaningful life. When there was an opportunity for one of the hostages to leave when they were getting equipment from the police, that hostage chose to return to the supermarket. In the end, four hostages walked out surrounding the gunman, and they all survived. The next day, the woman said she went and got ice cream with her family.

Like I said, I got nothing. I’m floored by this woman. Should a time like that ever come my way, do I think I can handle it with so much patience and kindness like this lady? I doubt it. I think she’s amazing and deserves AN ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEING A HUMAN.

I’m just going to start doling these out.