Book Review: The Midnight Library

One of the side benefits of being in a book club is that I end up reading books that I wouldn’t choose to read on my own. The most recent book club selection, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, falls into that category.

A head’s up: spoilers may abound ahead (in as much as they can for a book that doesn’t have a whole lot of twists or surprises).

The Midnight Library centers around Nora Seed, a 35 year old (I was surprised when I was verifying that because I remembered her as a young twenty-something) living in small-town England. The narrative opens with a countdown to her attempted death by suicide (the tone came across as a little too flip of a way to use a mental health epidemic for my taste). She finds herself in the titular library filled with books through which she can visit lives other than her main (or “root”) life. She is guided by Mrs Elm, her elementary school librarian and a sort of mother figure.

I found myself mostly annoyed through most of my reading of the book, annoyed by the fact that a male author’s main character was a woman. It was a story that I had read, heard, or seen before in various formats (person experiencing other lives through books, or film, or other art or narratives comes to a deeper understanding of his own life) but this time it was a woman as the main character. More specifically, it was a woman as the main character written by a man. Haig seemed to be practicing, for lack of a better phrase, a sort of “femme pen”. Was this book taking up a run on the printing press that should have belonged to a woman author?

In addition to being annoyed, I also spent a lot of time (perhaps too much time?) thinking about what might motivate a male author to write a female protagonist. And more broadly, what did my experience with this text say about men and women’s experiences in the world and how they are different.

I was struck by how little Nora seemed concerned for her own physical safety in spite of seemingly being plunged into these other dimensions with little to no warning. I first had this thought when she woke up on a ship which ended up having at least some other men on it. Personally, this would have scared the shit out of me. And one of my first thoughts waking up around strange people and in a strange place would have been: what did they do to me, how am I going to defend myself, and how am I going to survive and get out of this situation?

You might think it would be refreshing to read something where a woman character is landing in each of these places and her safety isn’t a concern. But it didn’t feel like to me as a reader. It felt to me that the writer had not spent any time considering how this experience would actually feel to an actual woman.

Nora lands on the ship, specifically, because one of her dream alternative lives is to be a glaciologist. In her “root life”, as it is called, she worked at a music shop. Some of her other lives involve being a pub owner, an Olympic swimmer, and a “rock star.”

I recalled a time when I was in Thailand and I went to go visit a local fortune teller/ palm reader. Amongst other things, I asked him, “what am I going to be?”

He looked at me, slightly confused, tipped his head slightly, gestured towards me and answered, “That.”

Turns out asking what I would be is a very western (capitalist?) way to look at the world and myself. For this particular fortune teller, I was already what I was. So much for all the time spent thinking about and answering questions about, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I already am what I am. And so are you.

I digress because for Nora, her first few slides (into other dimensions) are basically slides through different jobs, as if identity is a career costume. Perhaps I was just fortunate to have met the right fortune teller at the right time who disrupted this western notion that you are your career. Or perhaps it’s because I’m a woman and thus have always had fewer career options (and role models in those careers in real life or even in fiction realistically portraying what it would be like to have that career, potential sexual harassment and all). And perhaps it’s because Haig is a man, the link between job and self is stronger than it should be if one is to maintain a healthy sense of self.

On the ship, Nora meets Hugo who is, it turns out, another slider (and, in fact is the one who introduces her to that word). He has been sliding in and out of alternate lives (his library is actually a video store) for much longer than Nora. The whole deal seems effortless to expert Hugo, especially in contrast to newbie Nora.

Which is all to say that what struck me whilst reading this book is that it seems that men (and, of course, I’m writing very broadly and generally here) seem to have a very expansive exterior life while women have been forced, by lack of exterior opportunity, to have a rich and deep interior life. And that this rich interior life (which might be something that Nora could use and lean into during this particularly stressful time in her life) is largely absent in Nora and perhaps that is because she was created by a man.

Nora seemed incredibly alone to me. In most of her lives, including her root life, she was largely shown primarily in relationship with men and her one close woman friend was, in most of the lives, far away in Australia. And this made me feel a little bit sorry for Nora. But mostly it made me feel sorry for Matt Haig and for other people who feel like him because it felt like one thing the story was getting at was a sort of unexpressed sense of isolation. Perhaps this isolation is too painful to write about and so he ended up writing it onto a woman character where it ended up feeling flat.

After I finished the book, I happened to be talking to my brother about it (who also is in the same book club and had also finished reading The Midnight Library) and he had just been reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. One of the things that he commented on was how the main character of that book is a man, Milkman, who is shown in relationship with a number of women who are ostensibly supporting and, yet, in Morrison’s pen are fully realized characters. And how it is in these relationships with fully realized women that Morrison gives us Milkman, also fully realized both through these relationships and in his story.

The Midnight Library was the opposite of Song of Solomon. Rather than a man at the center, Haig places a woman in relationships with mostly men, but it feels ultimately rather two-dimensional.

Haig’s narrative did make me reflect quite a bit on how expectations placed on men and women have boxed us all in perhaps most noticeably in terms of our ability to participate in exterior versus interior lives. Nora eventually finds a way into her own life which on the exterior, at least, she seems to find some measure of fulfillment. I wonder whether Haig, too, found whatever (perhaps interior?) fulfillment he was searching for in his creation of this narrative.

As for me? I’ve already slid past The Midnight Library and on to the next book where, perhaps, I’ll find another dimension that resonates more with my own.

She Come by it Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh and Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall.

Brave on a Bike

I don’t want to have to be brave to get on my bike to run errands. But I do. And it’s not as if I haven’t biked before. When we lived in Minneapolis, I’d bike to parks or to the Farmer’s Market, trailer in tow. And when I lived in Madison (Wisconsin), I owned a bike a used it from time to time.

Here, now, where I lived, it’s not just that there are a few hills here and there. In fact, I bought myself a decent bike precisely because I knew I’d have more hills to contend with than in the flat, flat Midwest where I was used to biking and where I could get away with a heavy hand me down.

It’s the car traffic. That’s it. That’s what I fear.

But the county is attempting this “shared streets” program lately and so I set my sights on using those, where drivers are more likely to be on the look out for cyclists. Some of those shared streets are on a route between where I live in and the closest central business district.

Plus, a bakery opened up. How could I justify not biking for bakery errands. So I finally did it. My husband double checked a few things on my bike and I biked up to the nearby bakery. And it was lovely. The morning air was still crisp and light. And the croissants were flaky.

And so the following week, when I planned another bakery trip, I asked my 7yo daughter if she wanted to join me. She’s up for almost everything and is awake before most of us most mornings.

I went over a few things with her beforehand (I would lead, look out for parked cars and their doors, which might suddenly open, use signals and follow me). And it was a lovely trip too. She handled even the hills beautifully and the car traffic was light enough that it didn’t feel particularly dangerous even for a young biker.

(Full disclose: we do go on little bike rides as a family in the area. This was just the first times we were going into areas with more cars.)

She helped pick out the breakfast baked goods and we even managed to lock our two bikes up together so we could run into the store unburdened. It was warm, but not hot. And we arrived home ready to enjoy and share our loot.

It was warm enough that that evening , at dinner, we ate with the windows open and so siren after siren that wailed past our house was all the more obvious. There were more than “normal” so I checked on-line to see what sort of emergency was happening.

A driver had hit a pedestrian on a sidewalk. It happened a few blocks from our house and a block from where we’d been biking earlier, near one of those shared streets. From my understanding, the pedestrian did not, fortunately, sustain any serious injuries.

Still, it gave me pause.

In fact, I hadn’t biked up there again in the last few weeks. Until today. (Although, I definitely didn’t invite any of my kids along. I wasn’t ready for that.) But I needed some items that I would be able to get at the nearby Asian grocery store. So I biked up again to run in there.

And it was lovely. Again. I am not sure whether I am ready to take my kids along with me, but it was freeing to be able to exercise and run an errand and support local businesses. I grabbed what I needed, which fit neatly into my new pannier/ bike bag from the Vietnamese-Chinese owned grocer where I overheard to proprietor speak Thai with another customer and English to me. Outside, as I unlocked my bike, a man asked me if I knew what kind of flowering trees were along the sidewalk in a Spanish-English hybrid.

“Excuse me,” he asked, “Cerezo?”

“Cerezo?” I asked him, bewildered.

“Yes, Cerezo. You know. In Washington, DC” and he pointed south of us.

“Oh! Cherry Blossom!” I laughed, pleased at the surprise at winning this little verbal charades game.

“Yes! Cherry Blossom,” he, also evidentially pleased.

We carried on like this, about the little trees and how beautiful they are and that I thought were perhaps a type of Magnolia based on the size and shine of their leaves. And we parted ways soon after.

And I biked home, grateful that the trip back, now laden with a few pounds of rice, was mostly a gentle downward slope.

My loot from my bike ride. Rice and noodles tucked under there. The greens are Chinese broccoli and Thai basil.

Holy Week Monday

The gospel according to John hit be differently this morning. I’d heard of and spent some time being bothered by one specific verse that I saw differently this morning, finally released from my previous incomplete readings.

“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

It was a verse that had itched at me off and on for a while. In part, because I had read other translations which changed the tense to “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me,” which seemed to focus on Jesus’s foretelling of his own death, which would come by the end of this week.

In addition, a few lines back, John tells us that Jesus is talking to Judas, who has complained that Mary was using expensive oils to anoint Jesus when the oils should be sold to feed the poor. Here, John tells us that Judas was a thief who stole from contributions meant to go to the poor.

Was Jesus calling out Judas here? Was he suggesting that Judas had been carrying the poor (and the money that he was stealing from them) in his heart where he should have been carrying Jesus? Was he pointing out Judas’s failure to focus on what was currently present (Jesus, himself) in favor of recalling those (the poor) who were not currently present?

“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
John 12:8; practicing my calligraphy with mixed results.

I love Judas because he always reminds me of two things. One, that all of this are always on the same precipice of turning towards evil as he did. And two, that God is all forgiving and merciful no matter the myriad ways in which we might offend him.

I pray for Judas because I have learned from the moments when he has faltered, including this one in which he holds “the poor” up as a means to shield his own sin. I have much to learn from this.

Breaking Habits of Mind

I spent 21 years of my life as a student and I am now 44 years old, which means that I have existed on this planet as a non student just barely longer than as a student.

Most habits are hard to break.

This is what I learned as a student: every word and sometimes even little dots or circles or otherwise nondescript scratching written (and most spoken) will be evaluated and judged. Same goes for most movements of body and mind. Everything I do is either correct or not. Right or wrong. Sometimes even good or bad.

No left turn

The grey matter, even muscle and sinewy, grown and wrapped itself around these dichotomies. It has been a matter of survival. Or at least each cell became so easily convinced that it was a matter of survival. So that body and mind built up around a pillar of assessments.

Now. I’m no longer a student. Those pillars have crumbled away. How long will the spiraling neural pathways take to build shortcuts through those now empty, dark spaces? At the moment, I feel all hesitancy and fear, fumbling through new freedoms, searching for meaning in the absence of assessment and judgment.

Am I going to be tested on this?

It was raining this morning. All day, in fact. Still the dogs need their exercise and so do I. I donned my red hooded jacket and grey rain boots to take the puppy out to the yard to chase the ball (him, not me). The yard is relatively small, just enough room for him to take short sprints to and fro. Still, it’s enough. And on a day like today, I imagine for brief moments that we are hiking on a wind swept Irish coast. And I’d like to do that and be there and to end up in a pub with a beer and stew and a fire for the pup to lounge by.

But outside my brain and yard, a truck rattles by and right into the barkeep with his hand on the tap.

So Much Depends on a Sidewalk

A few days before Christmas 2020, a crew of men and women pulled up on the road in front of myself and, like a team of angels sent by God herself, installed and finished a six foot wide sidewalk in a few days. In doing so, they removed almost an entire lane’s worth of car space that had been the bane of my existence. Happy Birthday Baby Jesus to me!

To be honest, when I first submitted a request for the sidewalk, I thought it was going to be a matter of a Department of Transportation types showing up one day, checking out the site, an scratching their heads a bit while they said, “hmmm. I don’t know how we missed this on-block stretch of sidewalk right next to a bus stop? Curious. Well, we better send out a crew pronto to get this thing built.”

Not so.

The first response I received was someone telling me that there was already a sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. To which, you would think, a simple response of, “yes, but I don’t live on that side of the street” would suffice. No.

All told, it would take another two years of this type of back and forth until the crew of angels were finally able to complete their work.

A crew of angels. Angels, I tell ya.

Some things that have happened since the sidewalk has been installed: I’ve had conversations with multiple people who live in my neighborhood who I had never even seen before, my children have been able to go for actual walks/ runs, I have walked off at least 8 pandemic/ pre-pandemic pounds that I really needed to lose to improve my overall health, my two year old son ran down the sidewalk shouting, “the sidewalk is good!”

In the time before the sidewalk, many neighbors walked by our house but I wasn’t able to talk to them for fear that to distract them from their task of walking to the bus stop, would mean certain death as they had to walk into oncoming traffic.

I’ve seen some people remark about how extremely isolated they have felt in the pandemic. And I pray for them. I also remember how isolated I felt pre-sidewalk: something that I didn’t realize fully (and perhaps fortunately) until I experienced life with a sidewalk. Unknown drivers would often pull up on front of our house where there was room for cars. I spent much of my time trying to figure out what these drivers were doing. Most of the time (when I could figure it out), they were just using their phones watching movies or texting, sometimes it was other things (like pulling over to urinate). Regardless, the stream of stopped, unknown cars created a kind of vague paranoia or distrust in me. I felt my family and I were out in public and had the same feeling of guardedness even though we were at home, a place where we should have been able to be unguarded. I resented that other people could just drive their car up right in front of my house on a whim as if they were just in their own living room.

My kids love that this concrete flaking off revealed the image of a little girl on a sidewalk near our house.

The sidewalk has more or less ended this stream of cars stopping outside our house (on that side, anyway) by taking up the space where they used to pull over. And I’m grateful for that. The first time my dad came over after the sidewalk had been built, he settled into the living room and exclaimed, “it feels bigger in here!” He too had grown use to the way in which the cars crowded into my physical, mental, and emotional living space.

William Carlos Williams had it wrong. It’s not about the red wheel barrow. So much depends on the sidewalk, William. The sidewalk.

Book: The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers by Bridgett M. Davis

I read this beautiful memoir, The World According to Fannie Davis, a few months ago for book club and am just now having some time (barely) to write down my thoughts about it. I have had a whole mess of thoughts about it and I will try to jot down as many as I can coherently (again, barely much time to do this) but, for both of our sake’s, here’s my TL,DR: Read this book.

The book opens with an incredible story centered around the narrator’s (Bridgett’s) robust shoe collection. This is Detroit in the 1960s and the narrator is a young Black girl with a white teacher who has a lot to say (in too few words) to her about the girl’s shoe collection. Enter Fannie Davis, the titular numbers-running mother. I don’t want to spoil what happens other than to say that the yellow shoes story itself does more to reveal what kind of mother (in short: amazing) Fannie Davis is than a handful of pages written by mere mortal writers has a right to do.

Initially, the story of the yellow shoes, which involved a school and a mom and a child being treated poorly by a person in a position of power, set me on edge. Surely, this would end in some disaster for everyone. The child would be embarrassed. Accusations would be thrown around. Neglect and failure would ensue. I don’t think it’s ruining it to say that my fears were unfounded. But what my thinking revealed is that I have become accustomed to the mother narrative, and especially one, perhaps, told from the point of view of a child, to be fraught and disasterous. I’ve read many essays and books and stories of parental failure. And while I think these stories are important, I also realized that I had been in a parent-child-success story dessert. I was thirsting for stories told from a child’s point of view showing a parent-child (and specifically a mother-child) relationship that was warm and loving and open. The World According to to Fannie Davis was that long, cool drink I didn’t know I’d been craving.

Through her personal story and details, Davis also gives us a birds-eye view of American history including the realities of redlining and discriminatory lending, “numbers” and how it birthed what we know as the lottery, and the rise of Detroit aka Motown aka Motor City. (This is the first book I’ve read in a while that could inspire a playlist of music that would be truly and definitively American.)

One of the most striking aspects of the conversation in our book club was the ways in which several members (myself included) had experiences with playing the numbers in other countries or in small American communities. The book (and our experiences) were tinged by whether the games we were playing were legal or not in each time and location and whether they were considered a “vice” or not. It was a stark illustration of the ways in which the laws can be arbitrarily written (and enforced) to essentially teach entire groups of people or generations that their cultural practices are morally corrupt. Because while it was clear that Fannie Davis was providing a service (or several services including her home being a social hub and the entertainment factor of the numbers which allowed for greater social interaction) to her community, it was under the shadow and fear that what she was doing was illegal and somehow, therefore, wrong. And Bridgett writes about this. I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to think that a book about a mother who was running numbers out of her home would be potentially full of vice and guns and violence. But it wasn’t. But as readers, or at least I, as a reader, have been raised on this idea that this sort of gambling is illegal and therefore wrong and therefore must lead to other wrongs.

And it’s clear that these larger social and legal pressures have been absorbed by Bridgett. She writes about the struggle to write this story (at its heart a story of a mother who worked incredibly hard to raise her children, keep them clothed, and housed and educated and more) because of the shame around their family business being illegal.

It doesn’t take much to draw the comparisons around the law in America around what has become perceived as “vices” like marijuana use. In both cases — with the number becoming the lottery and with the gradual legalization of marijuana — the people who end up losing out are those to created and built up these cultural practices under the shadow of them being illegal.

I want to mention the medical disparities in this country highlighted by her story. At one point her father, who Bridgett Davis was very close to, was in the hospital. One of the nurses asked her why no one had been taking care of him. So here we have a family who has been continually under attack from redlining and disability and the stressors of factory work and on and on … and when they try to access health care, the nurse asks them why they didn’t take care of each other. That’s abuse.

Bridgett Davis quotes Toni Morrison to describe her mother and I’ll close with that because it’s a beautiful way to describe her mother and because I feel that this quote gets at the heart of the book. And while it’s Morrison’s words and not Davis’s, Davis’s narrative flow cleanly outward from Morrison’s.

“Black women seen able to combine the nest and the adventure… they are both safe harbor and ship; they are both inn and trail. We, black women, do both.” I feel she was describing my mother. (P181.)

Asking for more

Once upon a time, I lived in a remote village in northern Thailand. It was about 18 kilometers outside of the provincial capital, which was, itself, a sleepy but charming town which drew visitors to its fields of sunflowers every October.

The village I lived in was out a well paved road past rice paddies and an old rope suspension bridge currently only used by thrill-seeking teenagers. Next to the road out to the village where I lived, there was a steep mountain and, if you looked closely, you could see some rough steps hewn into the side leading a bright orange flag which marked a small cave where a hermit lived.

I am not making this up and this is not really a story.

I am merely pointing out the cave to say this: this village where I lived was remote. This village was so remote that in order to get there you have to pass a hermit’s cave wherein lives a man whose entire life is centered around not coming into contact with any other human beings. The village where I lived was “past the hermit cave” remote.

And yet.

And yet, I still managed to, fairly easily, get to and from this village to the provincial capital where I could get on a plane to a city and eventually wind up back home on the opposite side of the earth.

Buses should serve everywhere and everyone, even the spooky places.

And how did I transport myself to and from this village and the provincial capital? Some of the time I hitched a ride with friends or rented a motorbike. But some of the time I did it the old fashioned way: I took a bus.

That’s right. A bus. It didn’t look the way that you might think of a bus if you grew up in the western world, but that’s what it was. At a designated time, it passed by certain predetermined places and you could climb aboard and pay a fee and sit next to other commuters and eventually arrive at another stop where you could get off.

So here’s the thing. The next time you are lamenting that your local bus service doesn’t go where you want it to go or that you can’t ride it because it doesn’t come to your neighborhood or doesn’t take you the places you want to go, here’s what you do: you ask. Ask the bus company or the transit division in your local municipality (in my case it would me either/ both WMATA or Ride-on to please expand their bus service to serve where you live.

And when you do, remember the bus that I was able to ride to a “pass the hermit cave” remote village and do not take “no” for an answer (unless you are asking them to go past two or more hermit caves in which case, I’ve got nothing).

Everyone, and I mean everyone, deserves access to public transportation.

Isaiah on Snow and Community

On any given day, the Catholic mass is celebrated in the exact same way no matter the time or location, right down to what passages from the Bible are read. (OK, so the priest has some leeway in, for example, what he preaches, but the framework and the readings are the same.) The weekday masses include one reading from the Old Testament and one Gospel. Today’s read was from Isaiah.

“Thus says the Lord:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
Till they have watered the earth
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.”

We’ve had a bit of snow and ice now and again this winter and we were just on the end of a melt when I read these verses earlier today. Snow has been on my mind a lot.

A local news reporter interviewed me about a new bill being brought to our county council that would impact snow removal. I told him that when it has snowed, I’ve observed neighbors walking in traffic on their way to the bus stop because the sidewalk was impassable with ice and snow. I told him I’ve observed some turning around on their way to the bus stop when they see the snow and ice. We used to live in Minneapolis so, compared to there, we don’t get very much here in Maryland. This means that people are less prepared for in, however. And having to forego a bus trip because a sidewalk cannot be safely traversed can mean a lost wages or a missed health appointment or no trip to pick up groceries. These are no small things. The snow removal bill making bus stops and sidewalks more accessible, and especially in low income areas would have a real impact on at least some people’s lives with little or no sacrifice to the larger community.

So snow and my neighbors had been on my mind when I read Isaiah and it was like a little lightning bolt when he compares the Lord’s word to rain and snow. The rain a snow will water the earth, making food. Around here, in a suburban area, there’s not much food being grown that relies on the immediate snowfall. But I think that when Isaiah talks about the earth being made “fertile and fruitful” he means food but he also means more than that. He also means compassion and love for our neighbor. In our case, the snow forces us to think about our neighbors and about how we can make their lives a little better or a little easier. This is a fertile community: one in which neighbors care for each other and make sacrifices, big and small, in order that all of us can live in justice and peace.

Skid Lane

When you live along a six lane highway, options for dog walks (or any walks for that matter) are limited. Leaving my house, I can only turn one direction and from there, walks are primarily a matter of trying to hunt out sidewalks.

So I head out on a one-block loop that my kids refer to as the “short walk”. The one great hazard of this trip is an extra-wide crossing over a maze of three streets intersection at odd angles, and neither crosswalks nor sidewalks to be found. The paucity of stop signs adds to the driver dominance, but having completed the “short walk” multiple times, I’ve become accustomed to tracking the variables.

On this trip across, I note (and successfully avoid) a patch of what could be black ice in the road as well as a set of headlights, presumably from a car parked straight ahead of me, before my street fording is complete. It is hardly the first time I have come across someone sitting for long stretches of time on this and other neighborhood blocks. As I continue on the sidewalk, the driver peels out. I cringe and turn backwards, wary that they will hit that patch of black ice but they turn right, just avoiding it.

Further down the block, I dally as my dog sniffs at snow and ice, a tree stump there, an unexpected piece of bark there. But soon I hear the unmistakeable sound of a car engine coming fast. The driver rushes down the hill next me, not so much as a brake tap through the stop sign, narrowly missing another car. I watch as it speeds off up the car-lined single lane road ahead of me. My heart pounds slightly. It’s not that this is the first time that this sort of thing has happened on a walk. It’s more that it will probably always remain jarring.

I take out my phone after I tentatively cross the intersection the car ran through moments before. The driver may come back this way and somehow maybe I will record it.

Sure enough a minute or two later, I hear the same engine and then the squeal of tires as the driver turns a corner a few blocks from me. I can hear that he is coming in my direction but am only able to record a few moments before he pulls off another road.

If your sound is on, you can catch the last moments of the squealing tires.

I have often read about and seen diagrams illustrating that drivers moving at increasing speeds have a decreasing field of vision. In other words, they faster they are moving, the less they see. So it’s highly probable that this driver didn’t see me. And yet, when you encounter them three times on a walk (and particularly when it’s the “short walk”) it’s hard to not feel like you are being harassed. And even more so when the driver is driving at such speeds, so recklessly, and noisily.

As I continue home, I have two more streets to cross. Even though there are marked crosswalks along both, I wait back in the shadows, far from the curb until I no longer seen headlights in any of the four directions that might be coming from. Regardless of whether or not that driver was targeting me in some way, what’s clear to me is this: none of them can be trusted.


Yesterday evening, from the front of my house where I was standing with my dog, I saw two people walking along the six lane state highway near where I live. They were across a smaller road and on the sidewalk and I could just sort of make out their silhouettes and then a few more details in some of the headlights of passing cars.

At first they seemed to me a couple, a young man with his arm draped over the young woman’s shoulder. Then in the next flash of headlights, she was pushing him away. And he was stumbling away from her, towards to the traffic, stepping in such a way that revealed either a slight limp or too many drinks.

But I was a county road away and the cars were driving by and so I couldn’t hear them and didn’t know what was really going on. Was he hurting her in some way? Was she trying to fight him off? They were soon behind the tree that was between me and them and I could make out even less. No one else was around to intervene.

But, wait, of course there were people around. Each of the cars driving by — and there must have been at least twenty? Thirty? In the period of time I was able to see them. And each of those cars with at least one person, a driver inside. Maybe more. Moving fast. Too fast to see? To fast to care?

These two people eventually moved out of my line of sight. I still do not have resolution on whether or not I should have crossed the street and stood out there with her as the cars rumbled past so that she would know that she was not alone, that someone was there to help her if she needed it. But how to keep myself safe? And, after all, it might have been nothing.

And it was all just one more seemingly small way in which this six-lane highway further isolates us, how car culture inflicts its individuality and freedom on even those outside of cars, standing on the sidewalk on the side of a road maybe trying to get back home. Unseen and unsafe.