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  • Celebrating

    Originally posted July 4, 2015

    In Adams Morgan, all pour downhill in search of a clear view of the southern sky. The throng crosses the street to peer around and over buildings. The street feels unbalanced. A ship in danger of capsizing. The driver of a Safeway truck honks to break through the crowd, who interpret it as celebratory. From an apartment above, an unseen player attempts a Jimi Hendrix style electric National Anthem.

    South of Dupont the streets are empty. A helicopter hovers low overhead. Sirens in the distance. Explosions reflect and ricochet off glass walls.

    In Bloomingdale, kids shoot rockets off at the corner. Regulars from the emptied-out bar nearby look on. “Next year we’ll buy a huge box of our own.”

    In an Eckington alley, kids dance around fountains of green, blue, red sparks.

    Above, from the parking lot of the high school on the hill, fireworks tower over the city. Each one a signal calling wanderers:

    an old man steps out of an old car;
    cyclists stop en route to an after-party on U Street;
    strolling lovers approach holding hands.

    All are moths to the light of one family quietly taking turns lighting fuses. A private ceremony igniting the city.

  • Celebrating

    Originally posted July 4, 2015

    In Adams Morgan, all pour downhill in search of a clear view of the southern sky. The throng crosses the street to peer around and over buildings. The street feels unbalanced. A ship in danger of capsizing. The driver of a Safeway truck honks to break through the crowd, who interpret it as celebratory. From an apartment above, an unseen player attempts a Jimi Hendrix style electric National Anthem.

    South of Dupont the streets are empty. A helicopter hovers low overhead. Sirens in the distance. Explosions reflect and ricochet off glass walls.

    In Bloomingdale, kids shoot rockets off at the corner. Regulars from the emptied-out bar nearby look on. “Next year we’ll buy a huge box of our own.”

    In an Eckington alley, kids dance around fountains of green, blue, red sparks.

    Above, from the parking lot of the high school on the hill, fireworks tower over the city. Each one a signal calling wanderers:

    an old man steps out of an old car;
    cyclists stop en route to an after-party on U Street;
    strolling lovers approach holding hands.

    All are moths to the light of one family quietly taking turns lighting fuses. A private ceremony igniting the city.

  • Félicité: What is Your Part in the Orchestra?

    Félicité (2017) is a dizzying and beautiful film by Senegalese director Alain Gomis. It is a slice of life in Kinshasa that concerns Félicité, a nightclub singer whose teenage son is in a motorbike accident. In the first half of the film,  she is frantically doing all she can to save her son, but soon the film slows down. It becomes a portrait that encompass isolation, grief, community, and the ambiguities of a practical and romantic companionship. 

    Félicité official poster

    Two sets of interludes break up the film’s main narrative: dreamscapes of a forest outside the city in an inky-purple hue;  and scenes of an orchestra and choir in a cold blue-green light. Each time the latter appeared, I turned the volume up a bit more on my sound system. The beauty of the music — structured sounds from calm-faced musicians and singers — was especially moving in a film full of chaotic domestic and street scenes. 

    Perhaps I was especially primed to pay attention to these scenes. I had recently been thinking about orchestras as a metaphor for the moment we find ourselves in (a global pandemic, a heightened awareness of structural racism, an election year of dire importance). Each of us take up prominent roles when called for. Each of us supporting the whole effort in the background as it progresses: flute, violin, and drum, each essential in their way. 

    And Félicité knows this. She is a musician herself, a singer in a raucous nightclub. But at one point she is so filled with grief over her situation and her son’s accident that she can not sing, even as her bandmates play and encourage her. The scene ends abruptly as she walks off stage and the band halts. Of course, her life goes on. None of us can ever truly walk off stage. In our ways, we have to keep singing, and keep sustaining those around us. 

    Tabu, the repairman and nightclub drunk whose presence in Félicité’s life grows as the film progresses, also shows us that life pushes onward. He is repeatedly present and available to help (except when he drinks too much at the club). He might not know a lot about refrigerators, or how to carry a boy out of a hospital, or how to care for that traumatized boy, but he’s game. He steps in to take on the challenges in front of him, eventually succeeding at most in his slow, lumbering way. 

    This may be the message of Gomis’ slice of life film. We are there for each other when we take on the challenges in front of us. We each have to play our parts as best we can to move forward. 

  • Observations in the Time of Coronavirus: 5 p.m.

    At 5:20 p.m., my speakers come to life with music. A streaming radio station from Minneapolis, my hometown. It’s an alarm I set three or four years ago, timed for a brief segment of banter between the empathetic DJ and a charming curmudgeon of a newsman I’d known from Twitter. The newsman has since retired, but I keep the 5:20 alarm. The music reminds me to end my work day and transition to something else. I’ve worked from home for years, and so the coronavirus stay-at-home order had not been a huge change for my nine to five. But after five is harder. These days, the music station is often playing songs by musicians who’ve fallen ill or died from the coronavirus. They now interrupt their usual programming with news headlines from NPR and their sister news station. I think of friends and family in far off Minnesota.

    The debate in the news today has been over face masks. Preparing for my walk, I’ve dug out a stylish scarf and a black balaclava I once wore under my bike helmet in winter (the bike rides are shorter now and the winters are warmer). But neither of these things will easily and comfortably stay over my nose and mouth. And it’s warm out. Near 70 degrees. I don’t plan to go inside any buildings on today’s walk. I plan to avoid other people, walk less-trafficked streets. So I hang the scarf and the balaclava on my coatrack for another day. I step outside, wondering if this was a mistake.

    Outside silence. There are cars. But this is Friday at what would be rush hour. The time between distant vrooms and whooshes can be counted slowly. Tens of seconds filled instead with bird song. Wind rustling blue tarps on the scaffolding of the old school. The squeaking sound of vinyl rubbing against vinyl as a sun-bleached banner relaxes its folds to lay flat against a chain-link fence that clatters on its poles. Somewhere a soft clinking of metal at the same rhythm as a railroad crossing’s warning bell.

    “Hey There,” a man shouts. He’s the first person I’ve seen out. But he’s not talking to me. He is in a hurry, taking big strides in black shorts, black sandals, black gloves, black jacket, black sunglasses, black sandals.

    The speakerphone in his hand replies to his greeting: “Hi Mr. ———. How are you today?”

    I wander further. The sun is out. The flowering trees are all in bloom. Neighbors are talking to each other at a distance across front yards.

    I am squinting as I face the low evening sun and fail to spot two athletic men until we are twelve feet apart. They recoil from me, struggling to break step and fall in to a single file line, balancing like schoolchildren at the edge of a garden.

    A restaurant on 14th Street has music blaring and perhaps eight people near its tiny outdoor bar, many with drinks in hand. Everything is to-go now, but perhaps if the to-go order takes long enough to prepare, the restaurant can sell two rounds of drinks. I stay on the quieter side of the street. Two women walking their dog notice what I’ve noticed. One says, “I do not understand these people. It makes me so angry!”

    Just then my phone vibrates with a New York Times alert: “The C.D.C. advises all Americans to wear non-medical masks, President Trump said. He added: ‘I’m choosing not to do it. It’s only a recommendation.’”

    I turn away from the commercial streets. I walk minor residential streets, but even these are busy now. I turn down an alley to avoid crossing paths with more people. I follow the alleys home. At my gate, I wave my touch-less key fob and pull the gate towards me by grabbing a low area of the fence my neighbors are less likely to have touched. Inside the apartment I hang my coat, wondering if it is contaminated. I wash my hands and begin making dinner.


    One of 24 posts inspired by Half/Life, a 2019 collaboration with Katherine Mann and Kristin Hatleberg. Paintings and zine on sale now in the Future Cartographic shop.

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