Monday, July 13, 2020

Week in Seven Words #516

This covers the week of 12/8/19 - 12/14/19.

The holiday market is a dense, sweet-smelling mass of pine and cider. Clustered booths of ornaments, jewelry, scarves, and glossy desserts are overrun by curious and restless shoppers.

She questions my safety to a ridiculous extent. Sometimes I wonder how much of what she voices is concern versus a vague impulse to undermine my sense of competence.

It's so cold outside, our fingers are burning with it, as if ice is being rubbed all over them. The metal seats pour more cold into our butts and backs. We huddle into ourselves and share a small bag of lime ranch potato chips.

The bookstore where I donate a bunch of DVDs has a friendly, barn-like feeling. You're expecting authors to roost in the rafters, dropping pages of their latest drafts.

The subway doors slam against my arms, punishing me for my unwillingness to wait for the next train.

The second bookstore looks like the backdrop to an upscale magazine photoshoot. It's stylish, with lots of dark wood and gleaming hardcover books, but it feels inert and uninviting. You could easily imagine a few models in overpriced clothing posing next to the pristine cookbooks. An area devoted to books on wine is close to the children's section. There are no kids around.

He's tired, so his thoughts spiral inwards. His eyes glance off the rows of trumpeting angels, the massive tree in the background, and the crowds holding up their phones to capture the scene.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Week in Seven Words #515

This covers the week of 12/1/19 - 12/7/19.

For one kid in the group, algebraic equations can't be fully trusted. The variables are weird and nebulous. Arithmetic is more familiar ground; one can walk on it sure-footed.

Slogans, self-promotion, and meandering intros leave much less time for substance.

When asked, she says she doesn't like any books, movies, or shows. Just the Internet, here and there, like funny little things she sees on Snapchat.

Trash bins are scattered liberally around the park. The trash itself is scattered liberally around the bins.

Somehow it's still in business, but I'm not complaining: A tiny movie theater that shows interesting but unpopular documentaries to an audience of three or four people.

We arrive at the supermarket as it's closing. Left outside, we stare through the glass at the last few shoppers while the freezing wind batters us.

One of the politicians on stage says, "We're all glad about the city's minimum wage laws." From the audience, a woman who owns a small business raises her hand and begins to express some kind of doubt or disagreement. The politicians swiftly talk over her, to get the town hall event back on track, they say. Because even during the Q&A, they need to maintain a tight, controlled environment that allows for only certain kinds of questions or opinions to surface.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Week in Seven Words #514

This covers the week of 11/24/19 - 11/30/19.

Gossip, bickering, utensils rustling, the scrape of chairs, the shuffle of sore feet.

He's happy that I've finally agreed to let him buy me a TV to replace the outdated (but still functioning) cube I've been using so far.

I sign up for some health insurance, avoiding a pushy salesperson and opting for website enrollment. Not really happy with different aspects of the coverage, but it seems the best of a sorry bunch.

Currently, his favorite stuffed animals are fish. He lines them up on the carpet, while his older brother asks if it's normal for a kid to have so many stuffed fish. (Responding with a pun, carp-e diem, probably isn't acceptable.)

Bogged down with a cold, she receives orders to quarantine herself at one end of the table.

I loosen the manacles of emotional manipulation and set out to do as I planned.

Even late in the evening, the bookstore is full of people who have wedged themselves onto windowsills and into narrow aisles to read.

Book Rec: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Betrayal is one of the themes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Set in Edinburgh during the 1930s, the novel centers on a bold, unusual schoolteacher (Miss Brodie) and a small group of girls she takes under her wing. From about the time they're 10 to when they leave school at 17, they're called the "Brodie set," as if they're part of an exclusive club.

Miss Brodie's mission is ostensibly to give the girls a much broader education than they'd receive through the school's ordinary curriculum. But over time it seems that she's trying to mold them to her own liking or fix them in place with her own labels or judgments. I think that's one of the betrayals in the book – when students begin to seem less like students and more like acolytes, or like attendants in the court of a queen. To what extent can Miss Brodie fix their path in life, given her influence over them?

And how empty is her own life, that she needs such a degree of influence over her students? In what ways has she betrayed herself?

At different points in the book, the narrative flashes forward to show the girls as adults. It's revealed that one of them betrays Miss Brodie to the headmistress of the school by revealing the teacher's fascist sympathies. Miss Brodie's admiration of fascism seems like it's based on puffed-up fantasies (also, it's interesting how the nonconformity of Miss Brodie, who refuses to be like other teachers, co-exists with her fondness for the Blackshirts and with her own desire to mold her students and their paths in life).

When the student informs on her, to what extent is it an act of betrayal? You're left to wonder at all of the motives at play. If Miss Brodie violated the trust and responsibility of her position as teacher, informing on her may be seen as a necessary act, even if her misdeeds have less to do with her misguided admiration of Mussolini and more to do with how she attempts to influence the girls. The student in question may also have been trying to gain some control over Miss Brodie; she may have been struggling with the profound influence Miss Brodie has had on her life. It may be that the student Miss Brodie influences most – the one who becomes most psychologically enmeshed with the errant teacher – is also the one who turns on her.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Week in Seven Words #513

This covers the week of 11/17/19 - 11/23/19.

Three cops in the lobby of a small health clinic, boredom heavy in their eyes and the droop of their faces.

His passion is helping people grapple with a clunky, overburdened, often unfair system. While his suggestions for health insurance don't suit my circumstances at the moment, I'm sure other people find what they need through his assistance.

After sharing some useful information about dinosaurs and shark attacks, she builds box-like structures out of colorful magnetic tiles. I show her how a well-placed triangle can help keep them upright.

Enjoying good company in a dim, crowded restaurant while trying to keep a swarm of anxieties penned up in the back of my mind.

Looking through current health insurance options isn't doing much for my well-being.

Two cross-town bus rides, a doctor's visit, a bookstore stop, and lunch at a restaurant that serves excellent carrot and ginger soup. Liquid sunshine on store windows and gentle blue skies.

He really wants to win the game, you can tell. He takes on a tone of faux friendliness, begins to insist to everyone in the group that none of this is important. His mouth flattens into a quivering line. After he loses again, he pushes away from the table to buy a beer.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Week in Seven Words #512

This covers the week of 11/10/19 - 11/16/19.

"Just try to be a good person," he says to the group. "Don't compare yourself to others."

As we watch a movie that's hollow and pointless, the night hums around us.

The berries are enticing. They grow in tight, glistening bunches on the deep green leaves. "Don't eat any," one mother tells her kid. "Only the ones we give you. The ones we give you are safe."

We share a bag of popcorn in a courtyard enclosed by bricks.

The trees part, and I find a bench streaked with sunlight.

Many resolutions amount to futile gestures and relapses. (Oh, well. Try again.)

A delightful surprise left in my bag: a bar of 88 percent dark chocolate.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Week in Seven Words #511

This covers the week of 11/3/19 - 11/9/19.

It's a bright, vivid street, even at dusk. The windows glow with everything I won't or can't buy.

She's trying to do something ethical with her data science work, conscious as she is of how data can be used to manipulate people, deprive them of privacy, or deny them favorable decisions in unfair ways that are difficult or even impossible to appeal.

The fog has feasted on the skyscraper, eating away the steel.

jet lag
Night after night, waking up in the middle of the night, to the flat, dark hours.

He tries to hook up old speakers to an old computer. "Houston, we have a problem," I say, and we make crackling static noises and laugh.

She makes claims that force you into a defensive mode. For example, her questions already contain what she considers the true answer. She doesn't ask to genuinely inquire.

I think of what needs to be rebuilt, and I shiver at what it will take.