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As soon as we moved in together, we were faced with the urgent task of setting up a home for your son that would feel abundant and containing — good enough — rather than broken or falling. (These poeticisms come from that classic of genderqueer kinship, *Mom’s House, Dad’s House*) But that’s not quite right — we knew about this task beforehand; it was, in fact, one of the reasons we moved so quickly. What became apparent was the urgent task specifically before me: that of learning how to be a stepparent. Talk about a potentially fraught identity! My stepfather had his faults, but every word I have ever uttered against him has come back to haunt me, now that I understand what it is to hold the position, to be held by it.

 

When you are a stepparent, no matter how wonderful you are, no matter how much love you have to give, no matter how mature or wise or successful or smart or responsible you are, you are structurally vulnerable to being hated or resented, and there is precious little you can do about it, save endure, and commit to planting seeds of sanity and good spirit in the face of whatever shitstorms may come your way. And don’t expect to get any kudos from the culture, either: parents are Hallmark-sacrosanct, but stepparents are interlopers, self-servers, poachers, pollutants, and child molesters.

Every time I see the word stepchild in an obituary, as in ‘X is survived by three children and two stepchildren,’ or whenever an adult acquaintance says something like, ‘Oh, sorry, I can’t make it — I’m visiting my stepdad this weekend,’ or when, during the Olympics, the camera pans the audience and the voiceover says, ‘there’s X’s stepmother, cheering him on,’ my heart skips a beat, just to hear the sound of the bond made public, made positive.

When I try to discover what I resent my stepfather for most, it is never ‘he gave me too much love.’ No — I resent him for not reliably giving the impression that he was glad he lived with my sister and me (he may not have been), for not telling me often that he loved me (again, he may not have — as one of the stepparenting self-help books I ordered during our early days put it, love is preferred, but not required), for not being my father, and for leaving after over twenty years of marriage to our mother without saying a proper good-bye.

‘I think you overestimate the maturity of adults,’ he wrote me in his final letter, a letter he sent only after I’d broken down and written him first, after a year of silence.

Angry and hurt as I may have been by his departure, his observation was undeniably correct. This slice of truth, offered in the final hour, ended up beginning a new chapter of my adulthood, the one in which I realized that age doesn’t necessarily bring anything with it, save itself. The rest is optional.

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Photo and words by Flannery O’Kafka. Flannery is one of the best photographers of motherhood around.

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That it altered me

That I Saw the Light on Nonotuck Avenue
That every musical note is a flame, native in its own tongue.

That between bread and ash there is fire.

That the day swells and crests.

That I found myself born into it with sirens and trucks going by
out here in a poem.

That there are other things that go into poems like the pigeon,
cobalt, dirty windows, sun.

That I have seen skin in marble, eye in stone.

That the information I carry is mostly bacterial.

That I am a host.

That the ghost of the text is unknown.

That I live near an Air Force base and the sound in the sky is death.

That sound like old poetry can kill us.

That there are small things in the poem: paper clips, gauze, tater
tots, and knives.

That there can also be emptiness fanning out into breakfast rolls,
macadam, stars.

That I am hungry.

That I seek knowledge of the ancient sycamore that also lives in
the valley where I live.

That I call to it.

That there are airships overhead.

That I live alone in my head out here in a poem near a magical
tree.

That I saw the light on Nonotuck Avenue and heard the cry of a
dove recede into a rustle.

That its cry was quiet light falling into a coffin.

That it altered me.

That today the river is a camera obscura, bending trees.

That I sing this of metallic shimmer, sing the sky, the song, all of
it and wonder if I am dying would you come back for me?

– Peter Gizzi

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About 70 homeless people were quietly sleeping in pews at the back of the church, as they are allowed to do every weekday morning, with worshippers praying harmoniously in front of them. The church welcomes them in as part of the Catholic concept of extending the helping hand.

“I found the church surprisingly uplifting,” Alston said. “It was such a simple scene and such an obvious idea. It struck me – Christianity, what the hell is it about if it’s not this?”

It was a rare drop of altruism on the west coast, competing against a sea of hostility. More than 500 anti-homeless laws have been passed in Californian cities in recent years. At a federal level, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who Donald Trump appointed US housing secretary, is decimating government spending on affordable housing.

Perhaps the most telling detail: apart from St Boniface and its sister church, no other place of worship in San Francisco welcomes homeless people. In fact, many have begun, even at this season of goodwill, to lock their doors to all comers simply so as to exclude homeless people.

As Tiny Gray-Garcia, herself on the streets, described it to Alston, there is a prevailing attitude that she and her peers have to contend with every day. She called it the “violence of looking away”.

This excerpt doesn’t do the piece justice. It is required reading. “A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America” by Ed Pilkington in The Guardian. 

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That the agents of destruction have been women simply telling their stories in public is nothing less than delicious. Women were gossiping, complaining, name-calling, and suddenly the world was listening. (In fact, historians have written extensively on the importance of gossip and its venues, such as coffeehouses, in fomenting previous revolutions.) Each tale that came tumbling out was more sordid than the last: infinite variations on the theme of sexual scumminess. The revelations weren’t exactly new, but the frame had shifted: the handsy boss, the lewd entreaties, the casting couch, were no longer going to be business as usual. Every revolution has its weapons of choice—once it was muskets and guillotines, this time around it’s “sharing” and media exposure. It wasn’t heads that were rolling, it was careers: contracts yanked, deals canceled, agents quitting, e-mail accounts shuttered. Career death is hardly nothing—it’s the modern equivalent of losing everything. (When the Times recently compiled the names of twenty-four prominent men accused of sexual harassment, it did rather bring to mind the spectacle of heads on a pike in a public square. The name conspicuously absent, unfortunately, was our groper-in-chief Donald Trump, who’s thus far managed to slither away from the variety of sexual charges lodged against him.)

About those chopped-down potentates and lords: many of them, one couldn’t help but notice, were not the most attractive specimens on the block: bulbous, jowly men; fat men who told women they needed to lose weight; ugly men drawn to industries organized around female appearance. Men with weird hair. Is it wrong of me to bring this up? We do, after all, move through the world as embodied creatures. I wondered what it felt like, if you’re such a guy, one who’s managed to accrue some significant portion of power in the world but you’re still you—coercing sex out of underlings. When you look in the mirror, is it a great white hunter you see staring back, with women as your game of choice? Sure you’ve won, you’re on top, but isn’t every win a tiny jab of confirmation about your a priori loathsomeness? If sexual domination assuages something for certain men, is it because somewhere inside lives a puny threatened runt, and extracting sexual compliance is some form of recompense? One woman, who’d fought off the advances of a naked, pleading film producer, recalled that he thereupon broke into tears and said she’d “rejected him because he was fat.”

The mantra lately heard across the land is that sexual harassment isn’t about sex, it’s about power. I wonder if this underthinks the situation: Is the man who won’t stop talking about sex a man convinced of his power, or one who’s desperate to impress you with his prowess? Failing to notice the precariousness of power encourages compliance, especially among the women targeted. If recent events tell us anything, it’s that power is a social agreement, not a stable entity. The despots had power because they did things that were socially valued and profitable, but the terms of the agreement can shift abruptly.

This is a great read! “Kick against the pricks” by Laura Kipnis in The New York Review of Books. 

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