Brain-Picking Becky

BFF’s musings and reflections on this crazy life.

My Luck Dragon

 

One winter evening long ago, I was out with Dave and our friend/band member Ben Jaffe when we stopped by “The Thing,” an awesome secondhand shop in Greenpoint filled with extremely strange and wonderful objects. Ben picked up an old dusty piece of art in one of those gaudy brass frames and said, “This one’s from the Willy Wonka art dealer!” We giggled then took turns offering up commentary on other random items.

But the Willy Wonka art dealer stuck with me. I wondered what else he would buy and sell, how he would describe each piece, what his voice would sound like. He was probably creepy. I would probably want to hide from him.

The lyrics to this song started from there then grew into an outlet for my angst and anger over being young in America – how we were left with a recession, a broken society, a dying planet, yet were still expected to work 9-5 and pay the rent. I wanted a luck dragon to fly in and rescue me, leaving nothing but flames behind. 

This anger rings truer today than ever before, but instead of hiding or running, I’ve become more empowered to get organized. Capitalism in America has run amuck. We don’t need a luck dragon to save us; if we come together and fight as a collective, we can save ourselves.

Not sure how to do this? Consider getting involved with the Working Families Party, a movement focused on creating a system that supports all Americans, not just the 1%.

And if you’re into rock-n-roll, check out Ben Jaffe’s latest musical project, Pill.

You, Ruminating

 

Renee Ashley (pictured) is a phenomenal poet, one who breaks rules, challenges conventions, and leaves her readers changed. I discovered the poem “[you]” shortly after my mom left her body; its words rang in my head during those sleepless nights, both comforting and haunting me.

Rumi’s poem, the spoken-word intro to this song, also resonated with me during this time. I found the concept of a thousand barrels of wine to be wonderfully absurd, and I loved the idea of being so genuinely apathetic that nothing mattered beyond those barrels. The whole thing had a playful feel to it, yet I sensed something sinister there. I ended up putting the two poems together, turning “You, Ruminating” into a place to explore and transform my grief, and into one of my favorite songs from my band’s recent album, One Day,

Want to hear more of our songs? Check out The Brooklyn Players Reading Society at:

Website: thebprs.com
BandcampThe BPRS
YouTube: The Brooklyn Players Reading Society

Organize, Act Up, Disrupt!

The Way is Already” – a protest song from One Day, an EP by my band, The Brooklyn Players Reading Society


I am absolutely thrilled over the facts that we have a new president and a more progressive Senate. I loved watching Kamala Harris’s historical inauguration and Amanda Gorman’s powerful performance. I celebrated the win in Georgia and gleefully toasted a glass to Stacey Abrams. And damn, it felt good.

But y’all, as much as we want him to be, Joe Biden is not our savior. He’s obviously an improvement, but if his track record as an Establishment Democrat means anything, he’s not going to end inhumane deportations, secure reproductive rights, protect transpeople, overhaul our justice system, nor begin the long overdue process of dismantling white supremacy – unless we make him.

It’s on us to hold our new president and Congresspeople accountable. Remember, they work for us. It’s also on us, especially those of us who are white, to work on ourselves, on recognizing and undoing our biases and on committing to a life of actively being antiracist.

But guess what? We don’t have to do this work alone. In fact, we can’t do it alone. It’s time to start collaborating, to come together and organize, act up, disrupt. And what a nice thing it is to be able to use our joy as motivation to keep up the work!

Not sure how to get started? Here’s a list of suggestions for you:


Social justice organizations I like (there are so many more):

Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. quote on a Pride Flag, available for sale by hburrell

Coming Home



One Day,” the song that lent its name to The Brooklyn Players Reading Society’s new EP, was the very first song I ever wrote. I was 23, working in coffee shops, unsure about what I wanted in life and anxious as hell about it. The words to this song had been floating around my brain for weeks, but I hadn’t yet recognized them as lyrics. I was confident in my identity as a writer, but my anxiety disorder had buried the musician in me long ago. The idea of singing my words had never occurred to me.

And then one evening, after a profound conversation with Dave in which he’d convinced me to try making music again, I found myself on the G train, lugging an enormous 88-key Yamaha home from Guitar Center, listening to those words bounce around my head.

At first I only played through scales and a few songs I remembered from talent shows, but over time, I started improvising a little – something I’d never done before. My past life as a musician had been focused on playing sheet music perfectly, and this focus only fed my anxiety. The act of sitting down and playing whatever I wanted felt freeing, empowering even.

I kept returning to a simple bass groove with a syncopated melody over it, but I was never quite satisfied. The words in my head continually protruded themselves into my mouth, daring me to let them out. One day, when I was certain that Dave and our across-the-hall neighbor were both at work and therefore unable to hear me, I finally decided to give it a try. Heart pounding, I opened my lips and sang. It was scary, but it was also amazing, and the more I sang, the better it felt.

It took a couple of weeks to work up enough courage to play my song for Dave – so long as he sat in a separate room of the apartment in silence with the lights out – but that was enough to urge me on. “One Day” grew from there until a few years later, I got up on a stage, sat behind my keyboard and started singing into a mic, Dave on the drums beside me. My fingers shook, my breath came in spurts, and I wanted to puke, but I didn’t. Somehow, I made it through the song, and when the crowd clapped and “woo”-ed for us at the end, a rush of pure glee came over me. I understood for the very first time that performing could actually be fun.

“One Day” has morphed and grown over the years, but still, whenever I play it, I feel a special kind of contentment settle in me, like all the different versions of myself are coming home together, warm and safe inside this song.

My Three Moms and a Dave

This month marks 18 years living in the Northeast, 13 of them in Brooklyn. Before that I spent 18 years in KY. And now, in the same month in which I crossed this personal threshold of an equal number of years here as there, I find myself packing up my apartment and moving back to Middle America because Dave and I can no longer afford the rent. 

Covid did the unthinkable: it shut down New York City’s entertainment and nightlife industry. Dave, like so many others, is out of work indefinitely. It’s a huge loss, not just of income but of a whole community. 

But get this – my sister, Kelly, bought the house next door to my sibling, Max, then invited us to spend the upcoming year in one big Covid family compound. Four adults (aka my three moms and a Dave), four kids, two dogs, and one cat, doing our best to make it through this pandemic, this curse/gift of remote school and virtual offices, this country’s blatant racism, this frightening election season, this even more frightening climate crisis, together.

When I first left for college in Boston, I never would have guessed that I would fall in love with the Northeast, that I would come to identify myself as a New Yorker, as a part of the city, the city a part of me. It is hard to leave; there is sadness to be felt. But I am also very excited. Covid has pushed me into a place I never would have imagined. It’s scary and beautiful and full of magic. I am so grateful to have landed like this.

Will we return to a life in Brooklyn? I hope so. But these days, who knows what the future will bring. I’m still setting goals and dreaming dreams, but I’m not committing myself to any of them. Truth is, we never knew – and will never know – what the future holds for us. We humans built a society and made plans that gave us a false sense of control, of power, of certainty. We trusted it would continue despite how shaky, broken, and inherently oppressive it all is. Covid has changed me. It has changed us all. I would never choose any of this, but now that it’s here, I want to be changed by it.

I might not know where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing, or what our country will even look like in a year from now, but what I do know is that I will never stop trying to bring a little more peace, justice, and joy into this existence. Too many people, especially people of color and immigrants, are not landing like my family is. Instead they are being murdered by police. They are being beaten and thrown into cages by ICE. They are being told that their lives don’t matter as much as the walls of their neighbors’ houses. They are being harassed by landlords, forcing them to choose between paying for food or paying for rent. There is no going back. And why would we? Our country was founded upon genocide and built upon slavery. All of its systems are rooted in white supremacy and the exploitation of labor. Our entire world is burning, literally and metaphorically.

This is our opportunity to transform.

Do the Work

How many more black people need to be murdered in order for white people to care?

Breonna TaylorBreonna Taylor, murdered in her sleep by police officers who forced their way into
her home in search of a man who had already been arrested.

This is on us. We as white people have to take action, and we have to constantly engage in our own anti-racism work in order to understand how we benefit from white supremacy, how we contribute to it, and how we can undo the hurtful, dangerous, racial biases that exist inside all of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re “one of the good ones.” Are you white in America? That means you have work to do.

Our country is not safe for people of color. Our entire system is built upon genocide, slavery, and white supremacy, and that didn’t just go away when the Civil War ended. BIPOC have been terrorized by white people since the founding of the U.S.A. and they continue to be hunted down, jailed, and murdered by hateful white people who are encouraged and emboldened by a hateful system and a hateful history. It is on all of our white shoulders to stop this.

George FloydGeorge Floyd, pinned to the ground and murdered by a police officer.

I am embarrassed. In my last post, I dove deep into my own pain about Covid and described what it has done to NYC, yet I did not at all examine what it has done to communities of color, what our police force and many healthcare providers and our “justice” system have done – and keep doing – to people of color. I threw in a few sentences about recognizing my white privilege and felt like that was enough. It took someone calling me out on Facebook for me to realize it absolutely isn’t enough at all.

Recognizing privilege is not the same as taking action. White people MUST ACT. Where is our outrage? Are we just so used to seeing black bodies pinned under white peoples’ knees, to seeing them dead in the streets, that we don’t feel anything in response?

I’m going to unplug for a bit and dedicate the time I would be spending on blogging and social media toward engaging in anti-racism work instead, both in myself and in my community. Sharing my personal story doesn’t matter right now. Nothing else matters right now.

Get to work.

Resources for Anti-Racism Work


Organizations to Follow


Instagram Accounts to Follow

There’s an inspiring and educational dialogue happening on Instagram about race relations, art, music, gender identity, American history, and how this all intersects. Do not follow these accounts if you have not already started on your own work. It is not okay to go into their spaces and be disrespectful or to center the discussion around yourself. This is a wonderful opportunity to listen to and learn from others. Don’t waste it.

Also, find out what district you live in and which politicians represent you so that you can start making those calls and sending those tweets.

 

Photo Credits
1. Instagram/@keyanna.guifarro
2. Offices of Ben Crump Law

Surrendering

Covid City has gotten ugly. I’ve tried often during these past few weeks to write about it, but I’ve been so hyper-focused on not catching the virus, on keeping my kids safe, on creating a loving home inside our apartment despite the invisible threat immediately outside of it, that I haven’t had the energy or brainpower left over to find words for the experience, much less to reflect on it in a meaningful way. But there are things inside of me that need out, and so here I am, writing and deleting and writing and deleting and finally hitting publish.

I know things now. Things I never, ever would have imagined knowing. Like what it’s like to watch EMTs in quarantine gear haul bodies out of buildings, to learn a neighbor has died because a random stranger is now walking their dog instead, to hear sirens blaring all day every day, to watch a demolition crew clean out a dead person’s third-floor apartment.

Out of everything, this last bit of knowledge haunts me the most. I don’t yet know how to describe the sound of furniture being thrown to the ground and hammered into bits, how to explain what it’s like to witness three men destroy an entire home in two hours. They hauled ass, sweating and shouting at one another through their masks as they grabbed and tossed and banged and packed. It was well coordinated, as fast as it could have been. They didn’t leave a physical scrap behind. But god, what a trail of emotional scraps.

As I sat on my balcony and watched, unable to turn away because even if I did I would still have to hear it, I kept wondering, Is there truly no one who wants this person’s things? I love that my mother’s rooster figurines, her recipes, her favorite red plates, are now mine; they help keep her alive. It seemed wrong to me that all those things could just be tossed out of a window. But later that evening, I thought about how, six years after my mom’s passing, we are still dealing with so much of her unwanted stuff. Perhaps people had already come to this apartment across the street, collected what mattered to them, then let the rest go.

My brain replayed the scene all night long, refusing to let me sleep. At around two in the morning, I thought of a new scenario: maybe there were people who wanted those things but were too afraid of catching Covid to come get them. That means they were probably also too afraid to come visit their sick loved one before she died. I wondered how many people across my city, my state, my country, were dying alone in that exact moment.

I wanted to get out of bed and break things.

CODE COMPLIANCE
That’s not to say it has all been nightmarish. There are beautiful parts, too. My family is connecting in new ways that wouldn’t have happened before. My meditative and spiritual practice is deepening. I am full of ideas for my art. I’m also exercising more often now that I’m not spending ten hours of my week on a train. And just the other day, I took part in a meeting with the Brooklyn Public Library in which 40 different professionals meditated on Zoom together.

But these small victories don’t balance out or erase the hard stuff. In fact, these little joys make the hard stuff feel even more surreal. When I look out at families eating dinner on their balconies, kids scootering on the sidewalk, drivers honking at people blocking their driveways, my brain struggles to compute how this totally normal scenario is so completely not normal. How is it even possible that the greatest city in the world has been taken down by tiny, disease-filled, death-ridden droplets?

virus droplets
Our super’s adult son, who has been helping with the work around our 60-unit building without wearing a mask, recently tested positive. Around the same time, we also discovered that a five-year-old died from a Covid-related stroke and that a hundred other kids in NYC alone were exhibiting bizarre, inflammatory symptoms linked to Covid. Just two days later, the number of infected kids in the city rose to 145; a teenager, who woke up one recent morning in heart failure, described it as “straight-up fire” in his veins. Doctors don’t yet understand why or how it happens. So much for the saving grace that kids are spared.

The good news is, we have an out: my siblings invited us to spend the summer with them and my nephews in Ohio. Four adults, four kids, two dogs, one roof. It will be crazy. But also, they have a yard and access to a pool. And most importantly, there are only 2,000 confirmed cases in Cincinnati versus 200,000 in NYC.

We are privileged in so many ways. Simply because we are white, we are far less likely to die from coronavirus than our black and brown neighbors. We have a place to flee to, a car to get us there, enough money in savings to spend our 2-week quarantine in an Air BnB surrounded by nature. My job is not on the frontlines and therefore I can continue working from any set-up. And we have supportive, loving family to welcome us on the other end of all this. I am beyond grateful that they have opened their home to us.

But it is possible to be grateful for something and extremely upset about something else at the same time. Leaving the home I made ain’t easy. I loved our little New York life. I worked hard for it, dammit. And we have no idea if we’ll be returning to resume it or to pack it up because who knows when the entertainment industry will return enough to employ my husband again (my income is not enough for NYC rent). We also have no idea what the city will be like by the end of the summer. There is still so much left to just wait and see.

I grieve for the loss of it all, sometimes to the point that I feel sick to my stomach. Yet I am also able to feel all the promise within all the darkness. Everything has changed. I’m making choices I never, ever would have considered before. There is excitement and joy in that, too.

Writer’s note added 5/28/2020: I would like to add that recognizing my privilege wasn’t and isn’t enough. I’m embarrassed that I focused so much on sharing my story and not on examining or reflecting on the ways in which BIPOC are disproportionately dying from Covid, are not being heard or helped by our medical system, and are being murdered by our police officers. I have a platform with my blog and I should be using it to improve society, not just tell my story. I posted some resources today for white people to engage in anti-racism work. It should have been included in this post.

Photo credits: The droplets image is credited to QUT: Chantal Labbe.

Cooking with Kids

IMG_0194I don’t want to write about Covid City today. Instead I want to brag about my kid. Right before social distancing went into place, my food-loving five-year-old was featured on “Podcast not Podcast with Christopher Burns” where he shared all about cooking for the family. He had recently made a broccoli stew and mashed potatoes with radish for us, and was thrilled that they’d turned out to be actually tasty. Since then, L has gone on to create “delicious sparrow cake,” which did not contain sparrows and was also not a cake but was delicious, as well as a mushroom soup inspired by a Mexican recipe from one of my mom’s old cookbooks.

L has always loved food. At three months, he grabbed a chip out of my hand and tried to eat it. At 18 months, he asked to sniff the different herbs I was using and said, “Mmmmmm,” after smelling the basil. At three years, he suggested adding cinnamon to a curry I was cooking, and he was right. By this point, he can chop up vegetables, select the proper ingredients, and mix them together all on his own. He’s willing to taste anything and genuinely appreciates good food; one of his favorite meals is fresh fish, salad, and broccoli stalks soaked in vinegar. And in the play kitchen in his room, which he refers to as his restaurant, L concocts all kinds of recipes with such earnestness that when the baby crawls over, he says, “No no, baby, the stove is hot right now.”

It’s such a beautiful experience to watch my kid explore and enjoy food in this way, especially considering my own fraught history with food and eating. Even though I had recovered from anorexia nearly eight years before I got pregnant with L, all the research about how eating disorders run in families had me worried that I’d somehow pass it on. Seeing my kid chef work in the kitchen is such a joy on so many levels.

Listen to L’s interview below, and stay tuned for details on his new dinosaur-themed chain of restaurants, coming soon to a city near you (“When I’m an adult, I’m going to be a paleontologist and open my own restaurant”).

“Mashed Potatoes with Radish” – Podcast not Podcast with Christopher Burns

IMG_0212

Delicious sparrow cake