Bird: Here for It, #220

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

Verified GoFundMe pages for the families of Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Delain Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, Yong Yue, Paul Michels, and for the medical bills of Elcias Hernandez Ortiz.

Verified GoFundMe pages

Hua Hsu’s excellent New Yorker piece, “The Muddled History of Anti-Asian Violence”

The Muddled History of Anti-Asian Violence
Hua Hsu writes about a recent spate of attacks against Asian Americans, and how the muddled history of anti-Asian racism and violence makes it hard to tell a clear story connecting past incidents to the current era of the coronavirus and Trump-style nativism.

R. O. Kwon’s essential Vanity Fair piece “A Letter to My Fellow Asian Women Whose Hearts Are Still Breaking”

A Letter to My Fellow Asian Women Whose Hearts Are Still Breaking
Still and always, hypersexualized, ignored, gaslit, marginalized, and disrespected as we’ve been, I am so fortified, so alive, when I’m with us.

I think I shared this wonderful Splendid Table episode with Grace Young about the cultural impact and importance of Chinatown, but it bears resurfacing always. It’s so great!

Saving Chinatown with Grace Young

I don’t know what the weather is like in your neck of the woods, but the events of this week, both national and personal, hit me like a fog and then like a hurricane. It completely depleted me. For a beat, I was annoyed at myself about this. But then I interrogated that thought and realized that I was annoyed that I wasn’t better at bouncing back from atrocities large and small, national, local, and personal. What a weird thing to ask of oneself. And here I am being annoyed at myself for being annoyed. Enough. The point is, no matter how you’ve felt or continue to feel during this past week, I hope you can extend yourself some grace; if you’re feeling scared or angry or sad I hope you receive some comfort; and I hope that if you’re trying to find a way to make a change in the world or to feel whole or empowered, that world rises to meet you.

While I am still working through my thoughts on resilience, I would like to tell you about a bird who is, apparently, going to be my spiritual guide in this area. Whether I want it to or not. I’ve written before about how in our house Sundays are the days that crows descend like an omen and, from the sounds of the clacking on our roof, do a community theater production of Anything Goes. If you’ve never seen a bird Reno Sweeney perform “Crow, Gabriel, Crow” you really are missing out. There’s a lot of different kinds birds around this house, which is I guess part of the whole “living near the woods” and “something about nature” and “harbinger of doom” thing. I don’t know. I’m not against it. I just don’t need to be sticking my beak into bird business. They wake up hours before me, they are much more task-oriented, and every time I approach them to make small talk, they fly away, caw-ling over their shoulders “Talk is cheep! Cheep!”

David is much more beloved by the bird community (and pretty much every other community) than I. He puts out suet cakes in the bushes on a regular basis like your favorite chef at Golden Corral refreshing the biscuit tray. He ordered a bird feeder to affix to the kitchen window and regularly climbs into the sink to refill it. He has a book that he keeps on the kitchen counter to identify the birds. Me, I just call all birds Millicent.

Yesterday morning, while I was still in bed, I kept hearing an insistent tapping on a second floor window. This was new. The crows don’t tap on the window. And Jacob Marley’s ghost has the week off. I went to the next room and found a gorgeous bird with a russet throat and a cerulean coat at the sill. “The coat is actually cobalt,” the bird said.

We were at an impasse. It kept staring at me like “Uh, can you let me in?” I was like “I don’t… think so…?” It took off and then flew back and kept pecking at the window. I said “I don’t really know what you want me to do here; the biscuit counter is downstairs.”

I went down to get coffee and the bird was back, now trying to get into the kitchen window and completely ignoring the bird feeder. “Excuse me for addressing you directly,” I said to the bird, “but I have to let you know that there’s nothing really going on here inside the house. Maybe you haven’t heard but we’re still in quarquar and I’ve pivoted my personality to boring and occasionally annoying.” The bird just stared back, flew away, then flew back and started tapping again like I was the automated system you get when you call the cable company and the bird was shouting “OPERATOR” so that it could get to someone who could actually help it.

What does this bird want with our house? This is literally the plot of Mother! (I think. I didn’t see Mother! despite my deep dedication to punctuation in titles. I also didn’t see Where’d You Go, Bernadette? even though it had a comma and a question mark. A smorgasbord! I think my next book title will have an interrobang, which is an exclamation mark and a question mark smooshed together. I don’t really know what the question/exclamation at the heart of the book will be but if the bird gets in the house, the title and the book will basically write themselves. [By the by, during research for a play years ago I found the phrase “bird in the house” which is old-timey slang for “loopy.” “He’s got a bird in the house” means “he’s got a screw loose, he’s too much, he uses interrobangs, he’s prone to put one parenthetical inside of another parenthetical”. So perhaps this bird is just showing up for work.])

I have spent many minutes trying to get a photo of this bird at the window, which David’s book tells me is an Eastern Bluebird. But the bird repeatedly looks me right in the face as I slowly raise my phone and then the minute I get the phone to eye level, it flies away, giving me a little blue bird middle finger. “I’m not here for a photoshoot,” it yells. “I’m here to get into your house and then do whatever it is that birds do in the house!”

“Laundry?!” I ask hopefully.

“You wish, dummy!” the bird chirps, “‘Oh look at me! I’m a human! I’m doing chores! Service is the rent we pay for being!’”

“Did you know,” I say to the bird, “that when I was little, my mother had inspirational quotes written on index cards and taped to the kitchen cabinets, beside the sink and the kitchen window, and that Marian Wright Edelman quote about service was one of them? I found it inspiring, yes, but as a 12-year-old doing dishes by hand I wasn’t trying to hear that.”

“What?” says the bird. “I’m sorry. I was on a bird call.”

“Never mind.”

I would like to convey to you how beautiful this rude bird is, even without a photo, so I hired a sketch artist to draw it and this is what they sent back based on my descriptions.

I stared at the illustration for a long time before deciding that it was close but not quite what I was seeing in reality. Here’s another try.

I paid $10,000 for that sketch. But it was worth it for newsletter reasons.

The bird is back today. Like right now. Still tapping on the window pane like it’s been subcontracted to deliver a message from Lenore. It does not seem fazed by me nor fascinated by me. I don’t know what it’s seeing beyond the glass. I might just open the screen and let it in. See what if it will revisit its position on laundry.

The e-book of Here for It, or How to Save Your Soul in America is only $2.99 for a limited time. Cheep cheep, as the birds say! You can get it anywhere ebooks are sold. Click here to grab a copy!

Rough Trade Off

Look, I don’t have much to say about this very awkward Prince William PR story except that when they trot out the Black friend to tell you someone is not racist, that definitely means the person is un petit racist.

I feel like we cover this type of situation in Black orientation; what are you doing getting on TV being like “well, I’m friends with this person even though you’ve literally never heard of me before and therefore its incontrovertible proof that a pervasive system that bleeds into every facet of modern life has never touched this man’s consciousness.” Look, I am friends with a lot of different people of a lot of different races but you’re never going to catch me serving as a reference on a Not A Racist application. For what reason?! You ask me to give another person’s inner thoughts and motivations my seal of approval, I’m going to turn into a bird and fly away, Nelly Furtado-style.

Also, I am learning that “slept rough” does not mean what I thought it does. But even if it did it wouldn’t prove that William didn’t say that thing we all know he probably said. Mess. MESSSSS.

Speaking of Mess

Perhaps you are aware of the absolutely atrocious way that Substack, the platform through which I distribute this newsletter, has comported itself recently. If you’re not aware, but curious, this Vox story is a good primer. At issue is the fact that Substack paid advances to a number of writers to lure them to the platform and some of those writers are very vocally anti-trans and use their newsletters to spread hate speech. This is unacceptable to me. I am not in any formal relationship with Substack nor am I in any relationship whatsoever with these other writers. Substack has never paid me any money; I pay them actually. And, as such, this newsletter is both an extension of my voice and of my business and I want to operate both of those in ways that are moral and ethical. I don’t want to be in business with people like this.

So, I won’t be. I’m working on a transition to another backend platform that, hopefully, will be seamless for you. There may be a couple of things that are changed slightly with comments and it will look a little different but everything else will be the same and no one will have to resubscribe or do anything. I just wanted to let you know that I’m not ignoring this. If you’d like to talk about it, I’m happy to chat.

Random Thing on the Internet

This Twitter thread going long on the design brilliance of the game Candyland and the woman who invented it, is AMAZING.

I’m a human! I’m doing chores!