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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

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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