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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

work sets you free

As I began working on the script for each episode of Blackbetty, I named them first. The titles are ironic, even cryptic, and they help me immensely. I knew I wanted to create something audacious, something that would make people uncomfortable at times. The election was underway then, and I saw a massive shadow reaching its fingers around the world, knowing no matter what the outcome, we had already arrived at a very dark time. 

The characters presented themselves. I listened to their thoughts, as their embarrassing private lives unfolded on the living room table where I work. Some were bleeders. Some were pretenders. Some were piss and vinegar madmen. Some were just lost. I had scribbled a page of titles to work towards, matching each character to one of them. I don't really know how it happened, but I put "Work will set you free" on this list, the famous phrase that hovered on the gate that lead into Auschwitz. I had just learned that this phrase was not a Nazi concoction, but one that they had lifted from a book by a man named Lorenz Diefenbach. They had stolen this handful of words, using it in a case of bitter irony, perverting its original meaning with a sneer at optimism. I wondered to myself, sitting at that table, the sun growing low in the afternoon while E hammered away at her homework in the next room, while a pot of chicken soup bubbled away in the kitchen. What if I reclaimed this phrase? Or at least, what if I tried to. 


I was in rooms with a number of jewish people last week, a guest at their quiet family gatherings. In their innocence, some asked me in broken English about Trump, hoping I would say something positive. The Russian news tells its own version of events, and that is all they have heard. When I pointed out that Trump's supporters are spray-painting swastikas on houses, on the brick walls of the art school I attended, their mouths fell open. They had no idea. It seems impossible, but yet it is true. The paint does not lie, the same as a gate, the same as the people that built them, and the men that stole that naive phrase.

At home, late that night I wondered again if I had gone too far, if my attempt to infuse this phrase with new meaning would make people furious. In the story, a young man is asked to work far beyond his means. He is no hero, just a mechanic that lives with his mother. There are countless reasons for him to take that all too familiar step back, that quiet move, hoping things will somehow get solved all on their own.

We all know that rarely happens.

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