People often spoke of Pierce’s opponent, District Attorney Britt, in a whisper, as though he were the Voldemort of Robeson County. Stories of Lumbees and African Americans being coerced to plead guilty in court were as common as the ramshackle tobacco barns that dotted the landscape.
“It’s hard to comprehend how unwholesome and suffocating the system was,” testified Maurice Geiger — an attorney and founder of a nonprofit that monitored Robeson’s courts — in 1991. In a review of thousands of cases from the 1980s, Geiger estimated that at least 1,000 innocent people were wrongfully convicted every year; he also found that Britt’s office used a range of aggressive ploys to force guilty pleas. The court calendar was manipulated to make defendants appear in court for days or weeks on end while they waited for their cases to be called. Others were tricked into signing forms that waived their right to counsel — often easy to do, given the county’s adult illiteracy rate of 30 percent.
In 2016, I published my New Year’s resolutions on Longreads. As 2017 dawns, I thought I’d check in with my old self, dust off 2016’s goals and set some new intentions.
1. Alas, I never did make it to Iceland, but I did a lot of domestic travel in 2016. In Washington State, I touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time and slept on a sailboat. In Asheville, I got a new tattoo and swooned inside Firestorm Books & Cafe. I saw friends and family marry in Richmond and Chautauqua. I saw Deaf West perform Spring Awakening and the one-weekend revival of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater in NYC. I even visited Foamhenge! (That’s me in the photo above.) I’m returning to Asheville in 2017; beyond that, I have no concrete travel plans. Feel free to sponsor me on a trip to the ends of the Earth and back! I’ll write about it! For now, I’m seeing the world via the following essays from 2016:
I’ve found it hard to think of little else other than our country’s future, by which I mean the futures of my friends of color, my queer friends, my disabled friends—the list goes on. I am grateful for Twitter, where writers and activists I admire remind me that what is happening is not normal, that we must resist as long as it takes. There are stories here about the Native-led protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, folks standing up to Donald Trump and his white supremacist cronies, and prisoners striking against their miserable living conditions in a racist system. As journalist Masha Gessen writes, “The citizens have posted guard.”
Masha Gessen is one of the writers I’m thankful for. Yesterday I read her essay in the New York Review of Books, “Trump: The Choice We Face.” Gessen writes about her great-grandfather, a member of a Nazi-appointed Jewish council in his home ghetto, relating his position to the complicity we Americans may come to understand sooner than we think. I cried as I read. The NYRB essay led me to the one I’ve highlighted here, where Gessen examines and defends protest for the sake of protest. Read more…
Autumn is my favorite time to walk around my city. The swirling skies, the cool weather, the breeze, the crunchy leaves—it’s dynamic, and, best of all, I don’t sweat as much.
In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit writes, “Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”
I love this quote. Despite the fear I feel sometimes as a woman walking alone, walking places gives me a sense of control. I’m not at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. I can take a new, weird route or linger by the Canadian geese in a recently renovated lake. In the following essays, Antonia Malachik discusses the cultural implications of our aversion to walking; Garnette Cadogan relates how his walks are coded by his skin color, depending on where in the world he is; Adee Braun praises the New York eat-and-walk—and that’s not all. You can read these on the move. Just don’t trip, okay?
We’ve featured Antonia Malachik’s article on Longreads before, but it fits this week’s theme too perfectly to ignore:
“In many parts of the US, pedestrianism is seen as a dubiously counter-culture activity. Gated communities are only the most recent incarnation of the narrow-eyed suspicion with which we view unleashed strangers venturing outside on foot, much less anywhere near our homes. A friend of mine told me recently that a few years ago, when she lived in Mississippi, she was stopped by police constantly simply because she preferred to walk to work. Twice they insisted on driving her home, ‘so I could prove I wasn’t homeless or a prostitute. Because who else would be out walking?’”
In an essay that remains sadly, horrifically relevant, Garnette Cadogan describes his risk-tainted wanders through Kingston, Jamaica; New York City; and New Orleans:
“Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with others, unable to join the New York flaneurs I had read about and hoped to join…Walking as a black man has made me feel simultaneously more removed from the city, in my awareness that I am perceived as suspect, and more closely connected to it, in the full attentiveness demanded by my vigilance.”
My friends and I paused on a classic Manhattan street corner so we could purchase hot dogs on our ill-fated attempt to catch our bus back to Maryland. Certain denizens of the Mid-Atlantic are familiar with the Day Trip to New York City: You wake up earlier than is reasonable in order to board a stale, at-capacity charter bus full of crabby Marylanders (or wherever), and a few restless hours later, you’re deposited somewhere outside Times Square or Chinatown or the Javits Center. Then, you see a show (anecdotally, the most common reason for these jaunts), or go to the Strand bookstore (guilty), or something else. After we saw our show of choice (cliche, I know, but it was a one-weekend remount), we partook in that hallowed New York tradition: the eat-and-walk.
At Narratively, Adee Braun has written a love letter to the eat-and-walk, a lesser-known American export and beloved regional pastime.
When I was little, mystery books were my favorite. I read the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters. In school, there was Cam Jansen, Sammy Keyes and Harriet the Spy. When I visited my grandparents, I read my mom’s childhood books: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. My mom gives my grandfather the latest Mary Higgins Clark release every Christmas.
In high school and college I abandoned mystery novels and turned to spooky TV shows instead. My family was “Monk”-obsessed; when “Monk”ended, we watched “Psych.” I threw myself into “Lost”during finals and “Criminal Minds” on school breaks. Post-college, I binged “Fringe,” “The X-Files,” “The Killing,” “The Fall,” “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”—the list goes on. Now that I work in a bookstore, I’ve started to read mystery novels again. To celebrate, here’s a reading list about fictional detectives and the authors who mastermind their literary crime-solving, as well as real-life detectives searching for the truth. Read more…
In the past two weeks, Cleveland, Ohio hosted the Republican National Convention and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania hosted the Democratic National Convention. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton earned the nominations from their respective parties; they will face off in November. Not everyone is thrilled with this outcome. Ted Cruz urged delegates to vote with their conscience and didn’t endorse Trump, and Bernie Sanders supporters walked out of the DNC or protested outside the convention. I’m equally intrigued and exhausted by the political realm right now, so I’m relying on the thoughtful analyses and on-the ground reporting by talented writers.
The dangerous choices of the postergirl for the Family Trump, who, you know, probably isn’t actually a Republican. If you haven’t read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story about Melania Trump, read that, too. Read more…
It was a typically brutal Maryland summer, and I worked for a small music publishing company. I was often alone, collating or alphabetizing or organizing something, armed only with my iPod. I alternated between Belle & Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit and Keane’s first two albums. When my workday was over I’d walk the half-mile to the church on Main Street where my mom was a secretary. Or I’d go to the local library, its silence so different from the tense quiet of the publishing office. With my soundtrack, these walks became existential adventures. Even now, as I hit play on “Another Sunny Day,” I am still walking down the sidewalk, my sternum swollen with something adjacent to love.
I like thinking about this time in my life. I think I am still looking for something that feels like those walks. They felt endlessly, stupidly romantic. I didn’t need anything except a charged battery. It’s unrealistic that my entire life should feel like a two-mile radius in the town where I had a dissatisfying part-time summer job. I think what I miss is a path with a destination. Then, I could take as long as I wanted on my walk or try a different route, but I knew where I was going. I don’t know where I’m going anymore. That’s what this part of my twenties is about, and that’s okay, but it’s deeply unsettling. I’m too anxious to take in the view or to consider an alternate path. I am desperate for news of the future.
When she returned from a month-long trip, Rachel Monroe’s cat, Musa, didn’t want to be near her anymore. He avoided their apartment and stayed outdoors for long stretches of time. Distraught, Monroe did something she never thought she’d do—she called a pet psychic to see if she could repair their relationship. Read more…
My mom and I won’t be together on Mother’s Day this year. I’m in western New York for a friend’s wedding. She’s home in Maryland—relaxing, I hope, but more likely preparing for another week of teaching. We have a lot in common, especially our love of books and thrift stores. We carry our weight in the same parts of our bodies (sorry for mentioning it, Ma). We both have short hair. We have the same middle name and the same urge to overachieve.
One thing I admire about my mom is her fearlessness when it comes to starting over. A musician for decades, she went to graduate school (again!) in her 40s and became a children’s librarian. She parted ways with the church our family attended for a decade and found a new spiritual home, a church (coincidentally, I’m sure) two blocks from my own apartment. And she’s always down for trying interesting foods, new hobbies, new clothes or exciting hair colors—currently, she’s sporting a platinum pixie cut with lavender tips. She always surprises me. Our relationship isn’t always smooth, but it’s ours.
This week, I’ve collected stories about new moms, missing moms, dead moms and boomer moms, if only to demonstrate that there is no one way to have a mother or not have a mother. Some of us have toxic relationships with our moms and are better off—mentally, physically, spiritually—without them. Some of us have lost our moms to diseases, accidents, or time itself. And still others of us are becoming moms—every day, another Facebook friend announces she’s pregnant. Mother’s Day can be a day of meditation or just another Sunday. But I hope, truly, that it is a day of contentment, no matter how you celebrate.
“You’re the first person to visit this week,” he says. “People don’t want to speak to me when they come here. I don’t know, man. They’re scared or something. I can get why, it’s a spooky place when you don’t know it. But people, they like it when it’s scary. They like it when it’s dirty, right? It makes them feel alive. That’s why they make up these stories about cannibalism and stuff. Like alligators in the sewers.”
Jon offers me a sip of vodka. We drink together. He tells me to stay safe and to watch out for trains when I go back walking into the tunnel. I hear him talk to himself as I go away from the entrance and from the white sky.
The smell down here is the one of brake dust and mold. I can see rats scouring for food and drinking from brown puddles in the tracks ballast. EXISTENCE IS FLAWED, a graffiti inscription reads.
The city growls over my head — a distant growl muffled by the concrete, almost a snarl, like something cold and foul spreading over the long stretches of stained walls, like a dark and wild beast curling up around me and breathing on my neck. A dark and wild beast silently trailing me.