169 tagged with #daily

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heat rises from the sun-baked valley. i call it a valley, even though it's hardly even a hill. i pass a woman with a young grandson, both wearing coats and squatting on the hillside sharing food out of a paper bag. they don't seem to understand why i am wearing a t-shirt and shorts, but there is a sheen of sweat baked onto my face.

a silvered old man in a steelers jacket and beanie raises a fist to the sky as we pass each other. 'get on, keep it moving, get on out there,' he cheers, and i return his salute.

i sprint down the bridge in both directions, grateful for the crosswind that pulls moisture from my face and leaves only salt. it takes only fifteen minutes before i catch up to my number one fan of the day, and when i come up behind him under the tunnel, i shout, 'hey, i'm catching up to you!'

'oh! it's you! you made it back! keep on running, you keep moving there!'

his voice falls away, indistinct and blown apart by parkway traffic, but i round the corner with one hand raised high so he can see me. i run more upright, striding out, shoulders even, when i have an audience. i cannot yet imagine that i always have an audience.

19 March 2018 20:33

spring waxing

this time of year, the shadows stretch whole blocks. i see myself, pinned between a telephone pole and a tree, my legs reaching from where my feet meet the ground to a driveway three houses away. my fingers are vague, just ideas at the bottom of a hand that shifts size depending on the angle of my elbow.

a passing hawk makes me flinch; the shadow intersects mine as if i surely would have been struck in the head, but when i whirl around and scan the skies, it's in a tree across the street. smaller birds are unhappy, too, screeching in confusing at the sudden return of a warm, long sun.

18 March 2018 20:52


the family housing block always fell silent for a few hours after lunch; during the hot beijing summer, afternoon naps helped pass the roughest time of day, leaving more energy for activities after sunset.

but i wasn't accustomed to daily naptime, and neither was the other us-raised kid visiting her grandparents on the ground floor of our apartment stack. so when everyone fell asleep, we met in the courtyard, tiptoeing and whispering once we learned how much sound carried.

the empty lot next to our building held a stack of coal two stories high; all through the year, a few cartloads at a time would be added for the winter stash. we were strictly banned from playing in it, so of course we did, carefully walking up the sides without stirring up black dust onto our clothes. later, we'd rinse our legs and hands and wipe smudges off our faces.

what i didn't notice, though, was that the coal dust worked its way into my sandals, coating the bottoms of my feet so i'd carelessly leave black footprints in the entryway between changing my sandals for house slippers. of course i'd get scolded, of course they'd call my mother back in new jersey and tell her what i got up to when everyone was asleep.

there were some things they didn't report home, though; the times i'd ride on the back of my aunt's bicycle when she'd drop me off at my wushu lessons on the other side of campus, or the time she let me take her motorcycle around the block for laughs, or the times the other american kid and i confessed to missing lunch because we had snuck into the undergraduate dorms to hang out with college kids.

i can't imagine what i would have done in college if a couple of fifth graders caught a door wedged open for the smokers and casually walked into the first room occupied by people having a good time.

17 March 2018 15:31


my mother tells this story to anyone who hasn't heard it. at age eleven, we stepped out of the beijing international airport, and i screamed, dropping the handle of my suitcase to whip my hands over my face.

'what is this? what's this stuff getting into my eyes? i can't see!'

my aunts and uncles who came out to meet me for the first time, they laughed. 'is this what an american is? it's just wind, child.'

i remember a dry heat blasting me, sand that the wind dragged across the continent burrowing relentlessly against my skin. everything sought water, the moisture of my breath, my mouth, my eyelids; dry things stuck to wet things. that's how it worked. i put on sunglasses. decades later, i'd learn about desertification, china's massive terraforming projects that drained rivers and crumbled landscapes. later, i'd stand on a spit of land protruding from the empty quarter, marveling at how it could be simultaneously humid from the arabian sea and arid from a chalky earth that resisted water.

my mother, who grew up between the dirty dense crush of humanity within beijing's walls and the desolate northern steppes, still laughs when she tells this story to her friends, of a child she raised in a land so lush and clean that being blinded by a summer windstorm caused an existential crisis.

16 March 2018 20:02

take one

'please,' he said. 'please, take one. take one.'

usually, i'm curious. i want to know what inspired someone to expend the resources to produce stacks of flyers, to commit a cold afternoon standing on a street corner engaging with strangers. but rarely is this corner occupied by someone whose message i want to hear. from half a block away, i could hear him, and i could see that no one took any of the plain white printouts from his gloved hands.

'no thanks,' i said, in the nicest voice i could manage. i found his carefully neutral demeanor distasteful, i found the feather in his had distasteful, i found his tan wool coat distasteful, i found his insistent offer to every single person distasteful.

'what's this all about, then?' said one of the old ladies who stacked up behind me at the crosswalk.

'about the passover, ma'am,' he replied in that same cardboard cutout smile voice. 'all about the passover, and christ.'

'oh, no. no, we don't want that,' she said, wrinkling her nose.

it's a public sidewalk, i remind myself. we all have the right to stand on a street corner and proselytize, i remind myself. that's part of the deal.

we also all have the right to find it distasteful, that a charming middle aged-man in small glasses and quiet clothes would walk up and down a block that connects several temples and ask the jews to consider that his beliefs are better than theirs.

years ago, on this same corner, a young man stood with a clipboard, asking everyone who passed by if they were registered to vote, and offered to help fill out forms for anyone who needed it. 'are you just looking for democrats?' accused an ornery old man.

'sir, i help anyone register to vote,' he said calmly. 'do you need to register?'

and before the old man could counter, an old lady stepped between them, raising the handle of her folded umbrella.

'don't go starting trouble here!' she demanded, staring the old man down until he backed off. 'don't go picking fights!'

'i'm registered already, thanks,' i said as i passed. i gave him a smile, and a nod. the turnout on election day is only around a fifth of eligible voters. i don't understand why it's so low.

15 March 2018 15:00

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