Reclining Nude, Jean-Frederick Bazille. Musee Fabre, France.
While I am imagining the thrill of visiting a museum again, I decided to investigate my museum-induced sense that there is a theme in paintings of female nudes. I love nudes, partly because they provide clues about the ways society has viewed women over time. Anyway, during my museum days, I noticed that some paintings of nudes reminded me of other paintings of nudes, no matter when or where they were painted — in particular, paintings of “reclining nudes.”
It turns out that a single painting inspired 500 years of artistry.
In 1993, when I was working at a California state agency on a controversial project, every team meeting featured two agency managers suggesting, often, that we should be “getting off the merry-go-round.” It took me awhile to realize the purpose of the merry-go-round metaphor was to sabotage an open discussion of a proposed analytical approach. Whether or not others figured it out, the metaphor had its intended effect. The deciders decided we should be “moving forward.”
Language is powerful and most people naturally deploy short cuts to describe complicated ideas. We process so much information that we often rely on these short cuts to give our brains a break. There are a lot of language short-cuts out there right now and most of them deserve a little scrutiny…
I understand why so many people are angry. I am angry. Over the years, I have had numerous explicitly racist encounters with police from the Bay Area cities of Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont. I know my black son has had many more, and his are dangerous. I have worried about him every day of his life since he was old enough to walk down the street by himself. It’s all so painful and personal, it’s hard to even think about it.
And yet, I believe police officers should not be the main target of our anger. That’s because they are not the main cause of America’s police brutality problem. If we were to hold every police officer accountable for every act of racism and unjustified violence — and we should — we would still have racist policing and police brutality. That’s because the problem is not “bad apples.” Circumstances and government policy have converged to create a policing culture that promotes racism and violence.
This period of protest and national dialogue should make me feel hopeful but, so far, it makes me more despairing. It reminds me of the racism my son, Gabe, has endured over the years in our “liberal” Bay Area community. It reminds me of the anger I feel for the times I have tried to talk about racial issues and gotten the message that I should move on. It reminds me of the shame I feel for the times I could have done something and didn’t.
The City of Oakland owns 290 acres that are used as parking lots, which the City designates as “open space.”
In spite of my best efforts, I still think like an economist. Don’t ask me whether that thing is too expensive. Ask me whether it’s worth the price, or whether spending a dollar on that thing is better than spending it on that other thing. During this *unusual* time, the spenders among us are probably thinking a little more like this. Maybe we don’t need 12 pairs of jeans and 30 pairs of shoes. Maybe we don’t need to spend $160 on hair color every month. Maybe we should use the money to plant a garden or support the local food bank. Maybe we should put it away in case one of us gets laid off….
Photo of an exhibit at the Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA.
Last month in Mexico, my friend, Pepe, who has four kids, lost his job when his gringo employers decided to abruptly leave Mexico. Closer to home, two of my nieces are working from home with toddlers who insist on acting as personal assistants. We all have stories like this, some tender, some tragic.
My own story changed on March 14 when I boarded one of the last flights out of Morocco a few days after my sisters told me, wisely and somewhat *emphatically*, to come home. If a global crisis hadn’t intervened, I would be in Portugal walking the Camino de Santiago after two months in Central Asia and the Middle East, before heading to who-knows-where.
From the Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman.
I see a lot of news articles lately that feature lists of books we could be reading right now. Many feature dystopian novels, heavy classics and slogs through history. Some are books you think you should have read by now or those that will remind you of your worst fears. The Plague. War and Peace. Steven King. Cormac McCarthy. Thucydides.
I don’t want to read that stuff right now, and, for many of us, it’s hard to read anything. People talk about feeling too distracted by worries and the barrage of news. We are slowed down by over-eating, the world’s lowered expectations of us, and an unfamiliar kindness toward ourselves.
Painting by my big sister and second mom, Sallie Latch
On this Mother’s Day, I am going to begin with a story that makes me cranky but I will end with one that makes me happy. So, as Rachel would say, stay with us.
A couple of nights ago, a reporter on national news (it was Lawrence O’Donnell) told the story of a young friend who left her job to help care for her disabled father. The reporter suggested the nobility of this young woman’s sacrifice and the tender irony of a 25 year-old sleeping in “her childhood bed.” The story concluded with the young woman’s observation that, during this period of “new worries,” her neighbors “swing well away” to give her father’s wheelchair more room than usual on their daily walks. The reporter suggested the neighbors’ gesture was evidence of American “love” and “solidarity.”