My first Airbnb guests sent this message:
so we each have a guess as to the lovely lady in the picture’s name: one of us sees a lydia and the other suggests a sophia.
A flirty text. Were they trying to lure me back to the apartment?
I do not find it uncomfortable that strangers are in my space. Friends asked if I locked up valuables, but I don’t think I have any valuables. It turns out that I don’t care about my stuff anymore, even the books, which I used to carefully manage. Everything I own seems replaceable or half-remembered. Freedom from attachment, or practice at it.
I am not uncomfortable with strangers in my space, though their message created a moment of self-consciousness: they were in my space thinking about the person whose space it typically is. Then I read the message, and it was me thinking about them thinking about me thinking about a woman in a painting that Erin gave me. The magic of Airbnb is recursion.
Instructions for my first Airbnb guests
Thanks for choosing my apartment. I hope you and your girlfriend have a comfy weekend! A few tips while you’re here:
- My wifi network is LouReed and the password is “nilescrane.” (These men are the poles between which my personality can be located.)
- Enjoy the snacks on the kitchen counter! Please do not spit into my condiments.
- There is a storage room in the basement through the tiny door inside the laundry room in case you need to have sex.
- If you steal a book, please take one without notes in the margins.
- I had this horrible fantasy that you will stop up the toilet and use the plunger without washing your hands then touch everything including the pillows—like inside the pillowcases—but that’s crazy, you’d never do it. I trust the system.
- If one of my friends comes over unannounced, please pretend that I moved without telling anybody. This could be my chance.
- If you consider giving my apartment a negative review, please allow me the opportunity to change my lifestyle before you submit.
We the undersigned Palestinian individuals and groups express our solidarity with the family of Michael Brown, a young unarmed black man gunned down by police on August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri. We wish to express our support and solidarity with the people of Ferguson who have taken their struggle to the street, facing a militarized police occupation.
From our families bleeding in streets of Gaza, Hebron, Jenin, Jerusalem; from the Zionist prisons overflowing with our political prisoners; from our endless refugee camps, ghettos and Bantustans; from our indigenous people living as second-class citizens in what became “Israel” in 1948, and our dislocated diaspora: We send you our commitment to stand with you in your hour of pain and time of struggle against the oppression that continues to target our black brothers and sisters in nearly every aspect of their lives.
We understand your moral outrage. We understand your hurt and anger. We understand your impulse to burn the infrastructure of a racist capitalist system that systematically pushes you to the margins of humanity; we support your right to rebel in the face of injustice.
And we stand with you.
The disregard and disrespect for black bodies and black life is endemic to the white supremacist system that rules the land. Your struggles through the ages have been an inspiration to us as we fight daily for the most basic human dignities in our own homeland against the racist Zionist regime that considers us less human. As we navigate our own struggle against colonialism, ethnoreligious supremacy, capitalism and tyranny, we find inspiration and strength from your struggles and your revolutionary leaders, like Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, Bobby Seale and others.
We honor the life of Michael Brown, cut short less than a week before he was due to begin university. And we honor the far too many black lives who were killed in similar circumstances, motivated by racism and contempt for black life: John Crawford, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tarika Wilson, Malcolm Ferguson, Renisha McBride, Amadou Diallo, Yvette Smith, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kathryn Johnston, Rekia Boyd and too many others to count.
With a Black Power fist in the air, we salute the people of Ferguson and join in your demands for justice.
A book called ‘The Ultimate Question’ is about customer service
Today I read in a business book that clear writers are clear thinkers,
and I remembered my cherished 9th-grade English teacher musing that good writers are good thinkers, which relaxed my worries about grammatical rules because it threw a more important goal into relief,
and I worried briefly that I had perverted her wisdom if I am now reading business books, but the spirit of the idea means that clear thinking must be valuable, no matter if it’s in service of arty writing or business writing.
Meditative calm (South Africa)
Sometimes it’s more pleasurable not to advance to the next level in Candy Crush but to lose the same level over and over again for days, and I wonder if this is a sign of enlightenment.
This trip to Lesotho was for VIPs and their families. (I am facilitating and not a VIP.) We took meetings with partner organizations, visited beneficiaries, and volunteered on a construction site* for a day and a half.
After building Friday we got in the van, and the daffiest lady in our group suggested that we sing a song. One person called out “Amazing Grace,” another “If I Had a Hammer.” I was sitting out of sight in the front seat so didn’t have to react. The middle-aged people began to sing with surprising ability and gusto. They called out for another song request and the sulky 21-year-old gassed, “How about the Quiet Game?” The daffy lady—who is not so daffy; if I listed her credentials here you would drop your teeth—asked earnestly, “Where is your sense of lightheartedness?”
And I thought, “Oh, that’s the term I’ve been wanting,” because lately I worry all of the time that I am not fun, or I believe that I am fun but unable to access the fun parts of me as often as I would like or unable to offer them to enough people. At work I am known as a problem solver, but I have never been clever at solving the problems with my own personality.
Today is the group’s final day together, and I excused myself from the mountain hike so that I could eat a meal by myself for the first time in six days. I took breakfast late and was the only diner in the hotel restaurant. I asked for an extra piece of toast, which felt indulgent. (This is Africa.) In my head I scrolled through my phone contacts and tried to identify people around whom I act lightheartedly. It seems that the people around whom I can be most serious are also the people around whom I can be most lighthearted, which suggests that it’s an issue of vulnerability, because when people shake off my talking about serious things then I feel like they don’t have patience for me, which creates a gray cloud and makes it difficult for me to feel like having fun. I guess that’s helpful to understand, but I’m not sure yet how it leads to action.
* When I say “construction site” in this context—building a simple house for an orphan and his disabled uncle in rural-ass Lesotho overlooking a bunch of sandy mountains—it’s a patch of dirt, blocks, bags of cement, and a couple of local masons. A handsome black pig walked by sometimes, as did a sweet dog with pronounced ribs.
Getting good or getting reckless (Lesotho)
I flew into Maseru, Lesotho earlier than my colleague planned to pick me up, so I asked if there was a hotel shuttle. This is an airport with no food vendors and no Internet service, so there was also no hotel shuttle.
I settled in to read for a few hours, then the woman from the information desk told me that “a guy who is a police officer” would drive me to my hotel.
I didn’t have an especially bad feeling about it, so I followed this guy down the sidewalk and got in his unmarked early 90s Toyota. Once seated I realized that I was doing something strange and dangerous, and then a third guy silently slipped into the backseat, at which point I considered that I may be done for.
The guy in the backseat got out after a mile, and the rest of the way the police officer and I talked about NGOs, Chinese speculators, and how boring Lesotho is. I said he was very kind to drive me, and he said matter of factly, “That’s the way it is here,” and I gave him $10 because I spent the flight reading about informal economies.
My colleague Lois happened to be standing in the hotel lobby as I arrived and recognized me from my Skype photo. She was very impressed that I got here. When I tell my boss this story, however, it will confirm her idea that I am impetuous.
Just tell me about your day
What’s tricky about the less thinky, more narrative Lydia Davis stories—like the one in her new book in which she prepares to die in an airplane—is that once you turn them over in your head for a few days, you realize that they might be parables like the thinky short pieces are parables.
I realized the airplane story could have parable-level meaning and felt exhausted!
by Wendell Berry
"Do you want to ask
"No. If you do,
He went ahead:
his prayer dressed up
in Sunday clothes
rose a few feet
and dropped with a soft
If a lonely soul
did ever cry out
in company its true
outcry to God,
it would be as though
at a sedate party
a man suddenly
removed his clothes
and took his wife
passionately into his arms.
I never understood that America had written my anthem, and yet—
I’ve been one poor correspondent, and I’ve been too, too hard to find
But it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind