Bits and Bobs for the Week – April 14th

Right, so, it’s April 14th. Tomorrow is a big anniversary in Boston, so I am planning to avoid all news media outlets. In fact, I think I’d better do that until next Tuesday, because the marathon is taking place a week from today. 

I can’t do it. Sorry. Maybe it’s callous of me to say so, but I really don’t want to be a part of any of the memorializing, the eulogizing, the endless re-evoking of memory that’s going to be happening nonstop for the next week. Of course, I feel very sorry for the families and friends of the three people who lost their lives, and I can’t even imagine what the people who suffered life-changing injuries last April are going through. But being part of the constant displays of memory that have been going on since this time last year will not bring back lives or limbs, and at a certain point, repeatedly revisiting trauma stops being helpful and only causes more pain. I didn’t even live here this time last year, but hearing about the bombing and seeing the reminders again and again – it wears you down. For the sake of my own mental health I do not want to get drawn into it, so the only thing I can do is avoid all the various ceremonies and tributes and news articles that are going to come at everybody in Boston full-on for the next week.

Don’t get me wrong – public outpourings of grief and mourning can be very useful: they show people who were personally affected that they are not alone and not forgotten, and that there is a network of people around them who want to show that they care. And a one-year anniversary is extremely important for commemoration of any major event. The problem is, there is another group of people affected by the bombing – a rather sizeable one, I suspect – who are feeling very alone and overlooked precisely because of all the public displays of “Boston Strong,” the memorials, the news pieces. They’re people who were traumatized by what they witnessed, and for whom every recollection of the day’s events re-ignites that horror. They would like to walk down Boylston Street and not be constantly reminded of the bombing, the blood, the suffering. They would like to one day hang out in their city without seeing everything from shoe shops to schoolkids displaying “Boston Strong” on signs and shirts. They can’t heal so long as the bombing is constantly being thrust in their face – and let’s be honest, there hasn’t been one day since last April 15th that the bombing wasn’t in the news in Boston. Things are only going to get worse once Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s trial gets underway. So perhaps the right thing to do – and I know I’m treading some very delicate ground here, so don’t get me wrong – is for, after this year’s marathon, Bostonians to agree to grieve more privately. Acknowledge that there has been a year of public mourning, and that the next step is perhaps to step back a bit and begin to bury the bombing. This does not mean forgetting what happened or forgetting the people who died, or that people should quit giving to the One Fund. Not at all. It’s simply an acknowledgment that, while we all feel very sad about it, there is a time when you have to move the pain indoors. Take down the banners. Newspapers, radio, and TV outlets should only report on the bombing when there’s real news about it. It doesn’t mean you care any less about the victims. In fact, it acknowledges that if you weren’t directly affected, you realize your pain is distinctly different from that of the people who were injured, who lost a friend or relative, or who were on the front lines of providing help. You have done your bit of grieving in public, and that’s enough, and now it is time for you to move on.

I may very well be giving an opinion where I’m not at all welcome, seeing how I only moved here last June, but this is my rationale and this is why I’ll be avoiding Boylston Street until next Tuesday. It is the same rationale for why I treat September 11th and July 7th like any other days even though they are both significant dates to the two places I call home. At a certain point, for my own sanity, I had to say enough. The grief of the people who lost loved ones is not my grief, and sometimes the most supportive thing you can do is return to normalcy.

 
It is also worth noting – and thanks to Blackstonian.com for this stat – that 35 people have died from gun violence in Boston since the 2013 marathon. A further 200 have been shot and survived. Those 35 people were no less loved than the three who died at the Marathon, and those 200 people are dealing with many of the same post-traumatic issues as the 260 wounded in the blasts. Though, chances are that unless you knew any of the victims personally or it happened in your neighborhood, you don’t know the names of the people killed by guns. The idea of “One Boston” rings somewhat hollow for many people living in areas of the city struggling with gun violence and general lack of resources, where killings don’t make the news. Whether it happens on Boylston Street or in Roxbury or Dorchester, death is final, life is precious, and all those people were somebody’s children. End of.

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I’ll admit it: I really like Kathy Griffin. She cracks me up, and I suspect that a huge part of her appeal is in knowing that even when she’s at her rudest and crudest, and we’re all thinking, “Oh no, you did NOT just say that,” there’s secretly a part of us that agrees with what she’s saying. We just don’t have the balls to say it ourselves, because we know it’s wrong to poke fun at other people, even if they are famous and living in the public eye. 

Now, turn that kind of criticism on yourself. Feels a bit awkward, yeah? Of course, you shouldn’t give out what you can’t take – but when you can be deeply self-critical, and lace that criticism with self-deprecating wit, you might find that, indeed, plenty of people agree with what you’re thinking. And that leads me to this next bit…

I want to plug a project. I love giggling over Your Kickstarter Sucks as much as anybody, but when I find a Kickstarter that doesn’t suck, I feel like promoting it. This has happened precisely three times. Here’s the third: You should give some money to Peter James Field for his book of illustrations from the past decade of his visual diaries.

Field works as a freelance illustrator in Brighton (the one in England, not the one in west Boston). Columbia people, you may have seen some of his portraits in the university magazine. Or if you’ve flown United and paged through their magazine, you’ve seen three portraits of his in every issue, capturing people who have something to say about that month’s destination of choice. On my last trip back to London, Virgin Atlantic gave us copies of the Independent before we boarded, and I opened up my copy straight onto an illustration I immediately knew was his. Something about the government, or banking, or government and banking policy. Field’s freelance work goes all over, but this book he’s putting out there on Kickstarter is an altogether more personal project – it’s 10 years of his visual diary. Every month, Field posts a half-dozen drawings to his website. Several pictures capture what he sees out and about in Brighton. Sometimes he’ll turn the pencil on himself – if not on his face, then on exactly what he’s seeing as he draws, complete with his hands in the frame. The result is a deeply touching chronicle of a life in moments.

What I love about Field’s diary sketches is that they take something intensely personal – a diary – and present scenes and situations in a manner that makes you acutely aware of shared experiences. You watch Field’s technique evolve, see him move from Dorset to Brighton, go through difficult months and happier ones, all with wry and self-deprecating commentary. All the while you take various glimpses at somebody else’s life – somebody who is clearly very interested in pop culture, watching shows like Big Brother, while simultaneously we watch him through his diary sketches. Amidst the anonymity of the internet, Field does not know who his own “Big Brother” is – he simply puts his life on display, warts and all, and lets himself be watched. He has selected which images he wants to present to the world, but these pictures do not seem at all staged. Rather, they come across as candid and honest, free of the artifice that characterizes the “front stage” performances we so often present to the world on social media, choosing to show only our best sides and tailoring our public faces to exactly how we wish other people would see us. Viewing Field’s work, you feel like you’re peering “backstage” without being intrusive. You’ve been let into a life that is surprisingly like your own – but the difference is, he’s showing a side of himself that you wouldn’t be brave enough to show of yourself. Peter James Field’s diary book is like a reality show, minus all the cynicism you feel when the lens of television is involved.


(August 2007, peterjamesfield.co.uk)
We all feel sad and lonely, but we’re not willing to admit it. When Peter James Field self-deprecatingly sketches his TV or his empty can of lager and admits feeling unfulfilled, we’re secretly nodding our heads in recognition and relief. Somebody said it! Somebody said what we’re all secretly feeling – we just didn’t have the courage to say it ourselves.


(December 2007, peterjamesfield.co.uk)

It’s also a time capsule – in September 2008, at the start of the financial crisis (that was the month Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy), Field captures a billboard for the Bradford & Bingley bank offering 6.7% fixed-rate mortgages. That same month, Bradford & Bingley’s share price dropped to a record low and the bank announced hundreds of jobs would be lost – a scene that would be repeated again and again over Britain. The bank was part-nationalized, part-sold off. Field’s innocuous-looking nighttime scene doesn’t come with any more commentary than its location: Sackville Road Railway Bridge, Hove. A mundane advertisement like this is not a political statement. It’s not something unusual or shocking. Nor is it tinged with anger or resentment at a world gone wrong. In his diary, the billboard is simply what is present before him, displayed without commentary, something ordinary that gains meaning only when time passes. And maybe life doesn’t have to be extraordinary in order to merit being remembered, etched in ink, put into a book – a rather sacrilegious suggestion in an age of celebrity and narcissism.

Also: can we all just take a moment and recognize that this is a pencil drawing. It is not a photograph put through Photoshop. It is a pencil drawing. Considering I can’t draw for toffee (evidence available upon request), I’m in awe. You should pledge. You really should. Art books are not cheap to print – from my [brief] experience in publishing, I know that anything heavily illustrated is incredibly difficult to get printed, and if you think it’s hard getting a book deal as an new fiction writer, it’s probably 100 times harder for an artist when you remember that publishing houses are looking to make a profit and books from living artists generally don’t, no matter how wonderful the content. Self-publishing makes a lot of sense. Pledge. Pledge pledge pledge.

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Happy Passover. Oscar ate my chometz.
chometz

I’ve been in New York City quite a bit recently. Something might happen, something might not, but I’d be quite happy if something did, and no, I can’t be any less cryptic. What I can say is that New York always feels right, the way London always feels right. I’m essentially a nobody, like 99.999% of the population, but when you walk down a wide avenue and feel like you own the place, you know you’re in your element, you know something has gone terribly right and you’d better do all you can to keep it that way.
timessquare1
This is an old picture, but there’s a bit of me that will always want to be photographed under the bright lights no matter what. Eh, who am I kidding. There’s all of me still there.

My mother’s got this saying that it is fine to be a janitor so long as you own the building. After moving around so much throughout my 20s, I think I understand that a bit more now.

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