Before I embarrass myself, we should establish something: I am really into butterfly metaphors. I couldn’t care less how much they’ve been “done” (as one of my writing teachers told me they were), or that an entire generation of once-girls-now-women have rendered the image cliche through a veritable onslaught of lower back tattoos. A butterfly emerging from a cocoon is one of the best tiny mysteries of the natural world, and there just isn’t anything else quite like it.
Tomorrow, New Orleans votes on the New Orleans Public Library Millage Proposition Election. If the measure does not pass, New Orleans will need to close several branches of its libraries. This would be an unspeakable tragedy; public libraries are one of the most important things in our modern world. But don't take my word for it: here's a genderless wombat who will explain some of the details for you.
I am sitting down to write while Baltimore is uprising. Or — since the National Guard has been brought in, and a curfew is in place — I am sitting down to write in the wake of Baltimore uprising, and I can say this without hesitation: my white friends have opinions about it. Their opinions are: “There is never a reason for violence"; “Violence begets violence"; “It’s an uprising not a riot"; “The media is racist"; “Rioters are thugs"; “Rioters (uprisers) are heroes"; and, most popularly, “This again?"
Two days ago, someone broke into my car. I was at a concert — the kind of concert I hadn’t been to in almost a decade, with electric guitars and an obsessively-adored touring musician. Throughout the show, I kept thinking, “I wish there was some way to hold onto this feeling.” I could tell that I was nearing the end of a part of my life where I truly enjoy being pressed up against the front of a stage, digging my fingers into some twenty-something’s amplifier. Someday soon this will all feel less exciting to me. I wanted to be able to remember how it felt to be that kind of alive. Meanwhile, someone quickly went through everything I’d left in the car since I started to move, and made judgements about what was worth keeping.
If I could buy one indulgent new book for myself (and I’m not the type to buy indulgent new books; I am the type to buy nickel books and falling-apart books and books that have been out-of-print and gathering dust for decades), it would be “Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Catalog of Beautiful Untranslatable Words from Around the World” by Maria Popova. I saw it propped up on a shelf while I was browsing for gifts last month, and I lost a full hour going through it. It contains page after page of words that exist in only one language, and then whimsical little marker drawings to go alongside. For example, there’s the Norwegian word “forelsket,” which is “the indescribable euphoria one feels while first falling in love.” Or “tsundoku,” a Japanese noun meaning, “the leaving of a book unread after buying it.”
My senior year of college, I had my mind made up about what I was going to do, but no idea how I was going to do it. I was going to move to New York and become a journalist, somehow. I had spent some time working at The Nation Magazine the summer before, and i wondered if maybe they would rehire me to do some kind menial task (after all, I'd been a diligent fact-checker, and I wore such quirky outfits to the office). So there I was, perched on the edge of the vast unknown of a freckly job market, determined to succeed at find a profession in a dying industry, when I got an e-mail from Teach for America.
I sat in the attic, staring at “the pile.” When we moved into this house, four years ago, it felt like a godsend to have so much space for everything: the woman who owned the house had asked us not to live upstairs, but she said we were welcome to use it for storage. So whenever something appeared in my life that I needed but did not need, I put it upstairs.