I’m taking my time with a book and, for the first time, I’m enjoying it. I usually abandon books that take me too long to get through, but Michael Chabon peppers his story with sentences I have to stop and think about. It’s exhilarating.

She is getting old, and he is getting old, right on schedule, and yet as time ruins them, they are not, strangely enough, married to each other.

The Russian’s shoulders hunch, and he ducks his head, and his rib cage swells and narrows. It looks like laughter, but no sound comes out.

For an instant he handles the bones, horn, and leather of the old man’s hand.

Paying attention often requires some sort of empathy for the subject, or at the very least, for the speaker. But empathy, these days, is hard to come by. Maybe this is because everyone is having such a hard time being understood themselves. Or because empathy requires us to dig way down into the murk, deeper than our own feelings go, to a place where the boundaries between our experience and everyone else’s no longer exist.

~ Wendy S. Walters “Lonely in America” from The Fire This Time

Once a person truly dons this empathy, it demands that they keep their mouths closed and disregard everything they think they know. It requires them to listen with an awareness that opens their ears to something they’ve never heard before, something that sounds so unbelievable that, in any other context, they might think it fiction. When they choose to pay attention they may find that boundaries dissipate, but they may also find that, in some ways, the life they live is a fantasy and some wake up every day in hell.

He sighed, he moaned. He tugged in fits at the patchy remnant of his brown hair, or chased it with his fingers back and forth across his pate like a pastry chef scattering flour on a marble slab. The blunders of his opponents were each a separate cramp in the abdomen. His own moves, however daring, however startling and original and strong, struck him like successive pieces of terrible news, so that he covered his mouth and rolled his eyes at the sight of them.

~From The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon

Nobody had ever talked to me like this before: not Granddaddy, not any of my regular teachers, and definitely not Mama. In my family, we all moved in the same direction, hustling and scheming and getting nowhere. That was the path laid out in front of me. But now here was Miss Troup–in all her leather-boot and red-fingernail finery–telling me I could go another way. I took a deep breath and gazed at my reflection. You can do anything and be anything, I thought, trying it on for size. But I wasn’t totally convinced I had a place in Miss Troup’s world of “possibilities” and “potential.”

~ From Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat, Patricia Williams

We often assign music one task—to move us. We want it to make us sad, make us cry, make us happy, make us dance. In my opinion, the best songs ever written are the ones that give me what my heart wants, but also meet me where my head is.

And where is my head right now?

There’s always someone tryin’ to take someone’s power away.
The history of the world is violent. Will it ever change?
Now we’re livin’ in a time where you just can’t hide
There’s a camera in every hand
It’s not elusive. Even when they treat you like you’re useless,
We know what the truth is.

India.Arie, “Breathe”

My head is burdened by thoughts I’m very tired of thinking. It’s almost impossible to understand how a people could deem themselves so superior that they would enslave another. Or how after decades of fights for freedom, we somehow still need to explain that we aren’t yet free and stand aside while the powerful, the wealthy, the white trivialize this perpetual war.

The Constitution
A noble piece of paper
With free society
Struggled but it died in vain
And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain
Looks like it’s hoping
Hoping for some rain…

Gil Scott-Heron, “Winter in America”

In an effort to be kind, I’ll admit it is different now. We don’t walk around with our chains visible. But they’re there. A lot of us are bound by poverty and an inability to sustain ourselves financially, a state rooted in a system of slavery and racism conceived long before we were. Most of us are wondering why, so many years later, we even have to have a conversation about representation. Among these and many others, all of us are wondering why the mandate for an encounter with a black person is to shoot first and ask questions later.

Black human packages tied in subsistence
Having to justify your very existence
Try if you must, but you can’t have my soul
Black rage is made by ungodly control…

Lauryn Hill, “Black Rage”

When love beckons you, follow him
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

~From The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Grief and remembrance are not sacrificed to the false gods of propriety and decorum but released into the air like primal music, channeled through the congregation in a collective discharge of pain.

~ From The Quiet Game, Greg Iles

 

I really only have one thought about Greg Iles’ The Quiet Game. It’s a thought I vaguely remember having while reading the Natchez Burning Trilogy. These stories always start with the death of black people, but end with these deaths being little more than a footnote. Sure details of their demise are woven into the twists and turns of the plot, but whiteness remains central. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Maybe Natchez, Mississippi is like most places in this country where the sudden and tragic deaths of black people are background noise to the interests of the majority.

All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity. Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose provenance dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequence echoing down the generations. The quotidian demands of life distract from this resonance of images and events, but some of us feel it always.

~ From The Quiet Game, Greg Iles

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

~ From The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

I want this to be real. Maybe it would be if she had gentle hands. Her hands are calloused, rough, sharp, hard, tough. Her pride is intrusive. Maybe I could believe this if his strong silence had come after I spilled my emotions and not after she hurled ridicule. Maybe if their opinions were set aside to make room for mine, this could finally feel true. Maybe I could live, confidently.

Instead I shudder because I fear the fight. I keep my life sheltered and distant because it’s the only way I have the strength to truly live it my way. I step away when I feel pushed. I walk away injured by opinions and exhausted by the tension between respect and self-respect. I close my eyes and arms to the possibility of progress because I’ve battled too long to hope for different.

You give people hope; then the pendulum swings the wrong way and they’re left shattered, as much by false hope as by misfortune.

The Quiet Game, Greg Iles