Yesterday morning: daughter, dad, striding towards a bus stop. Daughter with a Hello Kitty backpack 2x her size and dad with his cell phone out, playing a tune. Both striding to the beat, one hand reaching straight up to grasp the other.
This morning: two women lugging groceries in blue bags, and a 24-pack of toilet paper, giggling as they go.
This afternoon: siblings on porch step, one hollering, “Up or down? Do you go up or down to get from 89 to 90?” Her brother running from one end of the porch to the next, thinking hard. “Down.”
I was going to the movies with a friend of mine from Yale who is black also. And there was a long line. And we were like, let’s jump the line. These white people, they’re going to be scared of us. We’ll just go and jump the line. We’ll get to the front of the line. So, of course, you know, we walked up to the front of the line, like, yeah, you want to try me? I’m black. That usually works in New York.
These people were ready to rip our hair out. And they were white. I couldn’t believe it. And they were like, in French, what are you doing? The line starts back there. You can’t just walk to the front of the line. They were, like, ready to kick our butts. I was shocked. I’m like, these are white people, and they’re not scared of us?
That’s when I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. And I liked it. I mean, of course, it was kind of humiliating, because you know, we’re supposed to be the intimidating, scary ones. And then all these French bitches in high heels were threatening us. And they were in our faces. And it made me realize that the whole black-white game just doesn’t work outside of the United States.
Because white people aren’t afraid of you here. And at the same time, they don’t hate you, because that sort of goes together. So I’ll take it. I’ll wait on line. Now I don’t dare jump lines. So that opened my eyes.
Ashtabula news: -My gramma has a new cat named Lulu. She is grey. My gram has lost another tooth and it makes her smile so child-like and sweet that I have to sit on my hands to keep from touching her face. -Christopher is making a model of a scene from Romeo and Juliet with the neighbor girls’ old Polly Pockets. He won’t tell me what scene it is— I’m supposed to guess but I can’t tell yet. -I got to meet (and paint with) 2 of my dad’s tenants who have been helping him lately. Their names are Ernie and Rhonda, ages 53 and 40, respectively. When my dad went to get more caulking, I bummed a cigarette off Rhonda and she told me about all 3 of her ex-husbands. She got in a nasty car accident that mushed her legs (pins hold them together now) and the first husband asked how the car was when the cop called to tell him. Second threw her out of a second story window and put her in a coma. She met the third on the Internet and found out too late that he was into kid porn and also was constantly taping her two daughters with little cameras all around the house. Ernie is her boyfriend. He is good to her. It’s been a year. I had pulled all the paint from my fingers by the time she finished talking. I asked if her legs could predict weather and she said yes. -My mom told me she keeps pulling her phone out to text Kelly, How are you? but then she remembers she can’t. -My mom picked me up from painting on her lunch break and we went to the Taco Bell drive-thru. “That girl is my twice-a-week buddy,” she told me, referring to the woman at the window. “What’s her name?” I asked. She couldn’t remember. “I’ll look next time.”
I grew up in a house in Ashtabula, Ohio where flowers were substitutions for apologies. My parents would fight and sometimes carnations would appear in a vase on the kitchen table as a way to say sorry. But the day after that, they’d fight again.
On Valentine’s Days throughout high school, if someone had a crush on you they could spend $1 and you’d get a white rose delivered to your homeroom desk. If you were dating someone you might get a red one from them if they remembered to do anything besides brag to their friends that they were in a relationship. Or maybe, a yellow rose would come from a friend who knew that your spirit was beautiful even if your acne + braces + self-cut-hair told a different story. I received none of these on my desk in homeroom on Valentine’s Day (I’d eat candy to compensate, though). I decided that flowers were for jerks, dumb kids in love, and funerals. And I grew to hate them.
Fast forward a few years to find me out of Ohio (whew! It was hard to thrive in a small town lacking in diversity, Thai food, and public transportation) and in Pittsburgh, working at the Whole Foods in East Liberty as a cashier. Part of customer service at Whole Foods is being nebby: "How are you today?" "What are you gonna do with this quinoa?" and "Who are you buying these flowers for?" I listened to flower stories that didn’t have ulterior motives or death as a theme (I got some good quinoa recipes, too!). I came to realize that most people getting flowers were thoughtfully buying them for friends. Sure there were hospital visits to be made, but moreso, celebrations of wonderful people. And I found out that a lot of people buy flowers for themselves, too, to just have around, because they make them happy. "What a waste of $$$!" a former version of myself would assume. But when you value yourself, you are good to yourself. Sometimes being good to yourself means surrounding yourself with beauty.
I work at Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC)now. I help to run Oakwatch: the Oakland Code Enforcement Project there. Oakwatch collaborates with many partners to prioritize quality of life-affecting codeviolations for enforcement officials. It’s been a really successful model and it so encouraging to see that involvement does translate to improvement. Engaging folks meaningfully to care about their shared environment and to be advocates for themselves is rewarding beyond measure.
I also work for a wonderful florist who specializes in detailed and often opulent events and weddings. I love helping with the lavish to-dos there but my personal style of flowers has evolved to be creative yet simple, with local tones.
Through a wonderful friend I landed a gig, too, putting together flowers sometimes for the best restaurant in Pittsburgh, Legume (I say best based on food, approach, and people).
Anyhow, throughout all this I came to realize just how much people enjoy flowers. I think it’s partly because we are not often reminded that we matter and are deserving of wonderful things. I have come to see code enforcement in a similar light to the one I see sharing flowers in— both improve the quality of lives. When we remember that more beautiful, code-compliant communities are everyone’s responsibility, everyone is able thrive. And when we recognize and appreciate each other as humans, thriving gets even easier.
I hold the value that flowers are for everyone, not just folks like Elton John or people with extra spending $.
In that vein, my favorite summertime code violation is high weeds and tall grass. My favorite thing to do with weeds is to walk around and pick them (and, ultimately, encourage people to take care of their properties) (I like picking up litter, too, but that’s another page!). Gleaning beauty from the mundane has colored my approach to flowers and largely, to life.
Rinse out a salsa jar. Pick some weeds. Make a bouquet for yourself. Rinse out a jelly jar. Pick more weeds. Make a bouquet for someone you care about. Create beautiful things; share them. Flowers can be for everyone!
In Pittsburgh, through 311 and our new transparentmayor and administration, civic engagement is for everyone, too. Caring about different things can be frustrating when there is no clear way to act to make things better. Apathy is easy because you’ll rarely be disappointed if you disconnect. It doesn’t have to be that way, though— you can be the difference you’ve been waiting for, and I would encourage you to do so by paying attention, accessing resources when you have concerns, and picking weeds.
Without oversharing too much, my parents are in love again after 34 years of marriage, which is sweet, but kind of gross, too (parent PDA’s are extra awkward when you’re not used to them!). He brings her flowers at work now, just because.
OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO FOR JENNY LEWIS' JUST ONE OF THE GUYS, featuring Kristen Stewart, Brie Larson and Anne Hathaway.
OH THIS LADY and her pouty friends. I am recalling a million Jenny memories listening to this delightful song, here are 7.
1. My brother Jeremy burning me Rilo Kiley’s More Adventurous when I was in high school, and how much less lonely that album made me feel.
2. Can vanity and happiness coexist? -Love and War, 11 11 46
3. Jeremy taking me to the House of Blues for my birthday to see Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins on their Rabbit Fur Coat tour.
4. Jeremy going with me to see Rilo Kiley in Santa Monica on their Under the Blacklight tour.
5. The Jenny Lewis shrine I used to have in my room. How when I moved in with a boyfriend there was one rule for each of us, I wasn’t allowed to have a Jenny shrine in the common area and he wasn’t allowed to fart in the kitchen. Years later, I was tired of moving that shrine from rented place to rented place so I gave it to someone sweet for the price of two beers.
6. What are you changing? Who do you think you’re changing? You can’t change things/ we’re all stuck in our ways. It’s like trying to clean the ocean— what, do you think you can drain it? -Rise Up with Fists!!!
7. My obsession has dwindled to a fond memory, but damn it all to hell if I do not still love one Ms. Jenny Lewis.
careful to not complain too much / careful to not keep everything under wraps.
be mindful / try not to overthink things.
be accepting and kind / note when folks do not keep you in mind as much as you keep them and avoid continuing to keep them in mind.
give without keeping track / except maybe you should keep track slightly so you are not exhausted by funneling energy into caring a lot but getting no satisfaction or sweetness or even a tiny: hey, thanks.
call your mom all the time / exist without having report every detail.
love, love, love / do not smother.
swim, swim, swim / take care to not burn or get pruney.
don’t put all your eggs in a single basket / don’t be a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
out of sight and out of mind / distance makes the heart grow fonder.
be sweet but don’t take shit.
be smart but stay humble.
independence mixed with sense of belonging: individuality / community.