A few months ago, my friend Isabelle went to a Literary Death Match where she heard LA writer Ryka Aoki read her essay/story “Olga from the Sky.” Isabelle described it to me as a story of a “weird encounter in LA”; we have something of a habit of exchanging our own weird encounters on the streets of this city. She was so taken with Ryka Aoki’s story that she went up to her after the readings to thank her for sharing it and she bought Seasonal Velocities, the collection of poems, stories, and essays in which “Olga from the Sky” appears. I borrowed the book from her and read the story, which is indeed wonderful. It’s beautifully hopeful and should resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like they haven’t amounted to much. I also read the rest of the book and loved it. Some of the pieces are very raw, and there’s a lot of pain in them, so much so that they hurt to read, but in this book there’s also beauty and determination and hope.
I talked about weird encounters in LA, and I’ve had some more in the past few weeks, and they’ve made me realize something broader. Since the presidential election, which was almost exactly one month ago, I’ve changed in small ways. I’m more likely to donate money to organizations that mean something to me. I’m more likely to give money to someone who asks me for it on the street. I’m more likely to engage in conversation with eccentric strangers at the bus stop instead of keeping my nose pointedly in the book I always have on me, even if said eccentric strangers are urging me to find a good husband or telling me about the brain tumor they had to diagnose in themselves because doctors are useless. I’m more likely to lend money to a friend who needs a loan. I’m more likely to respond positively to specific requests from an organization I volunteer with.
I’m not sure, but I think these impulses stem from a new sense that we must strengthen ties within our communities. That we must come together and look out for each other. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like talking to strangers, but now if somebody at the bus stop needs someone to listen to them, to treat them like a human being, why shouldn’t I be that person, for the five minutes I’ll be waiting there?
I want to close with some words from a recent interview in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online daily newspaper, with Professor Donna Jo Napoli. Donna Jo was my syntax professor at Swarthmore, but long before I went to college, I read some of her children’s books because yes, she is also an author. (I aspire to be her, abstractly; I want to be a linguistics professor AND an author of books for young people.) The full interview is well worth reading, but the part I want to quote is the following, for anyone who’s wondering if what they’re doing in these times means anything:
“[I]f we allow violence and tragedies to make us feel like our participation in joyful things–particularly in art or extremely academic things–to make us feel like that participation is frivolous, we’ve lost. …It’s not, it’s beautiful, it’s recognizing systems, it’s glory.”