May I suggest that no book party is complete without dance—at least not one that looks at West Side Story! Here are Michael McILwee and Felicity Stiverson performing part of “Dance at the Gym.” Books, dance, the murals of José Clemente Orozco (with family in the background): my worlds collide.

Back to School

The semester has started with histories of the New School: presentations at various orientations and the latest version of a university lecture course on the subject that I teach with Mark Larrimore. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education outlined reasons why universities should offer courses about their histories. But it neglected to include the reasons I think are the most important. Read more…

Masterpieces of Everyday NY.jpg

Masterpieces of Everyday New York

In 2013, the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center initiated an exhibition on “objects as story,” prompted by curricular changes at Parsons that shaped its telling of the history of art and design around objects. New York served as the common theme for the exhibition, and faculty around the university identified and reflected upon an object that made up their New York. Mine: a sailor suit. See the full exhibition now online here.


Research as a Public Good

As I return to research myself, I’ve been asked to be a member of the New York Public Library’s Research Advisory Group. It’s an honor to be among such distinguished company and to be asked to think about how this stalwart institution can strengthen its mission in research. How to articulate, argue for, and act upon research as a public good? Keep us honest and accountable. Send suggestions and comments.


I have reached a certain age and a certain status: mid-career, mid-life. No more hoops to jump through—but still quite some years before I can retire—I have some freedom to decide what to concentrate on in my research and what modes of outcome for that research are appealing (book? website? exhibition? regular writing in an online magazine?). But how to be deliberate and intentional about what next, when I am long past the point of having a mentor? Over the last few months I undertook a mentoring project, with friends and colleagues, asking for their help in determining next steps. Read more…



We were lucky enough to have Laura Sanchez as a student in the fall course that built the Rikers component of the States of Incarceration exhibition. She was also part of the team that conceived #SeeRikers (the guerilla campaign is still ongoing!). And, then, she continued the investigation of the consequences of life on the inside with her master’s thesis exhibition, “Missing.” Read more…



What a story. This book is a chronicle of two people bound together by addiction, imprisonment, immigration—and love. Theirs is not the only love story that has those elements but what is unusual is to hear the experience from both sides. Told in alternating chapters, Susan Stellin (a journalist) and Graham MacIndoe (a photographer) detail their falling in love, his addiction, imprisonment, and detention, and what they learned along the way about themselves, each other, and some good ‘ol American injustice. Read more…

w nssr 1969

New School Histories

NSSR, 1969, New School Archives

Histories of the New School are accumulating: video here of Mark Larrimore and I contending with the question “What Does It Mean to Be a Progressive University?” for Staff Development Day. And I took up the topic of “Women at The New School” here.


A Center for Dance

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Center for Ballet and the Arts about other centers–City Center and Lincoln Center. The tangled relationship between these two institutions reveals the ideals, politics, and challenges of the arts in New York, especially for dance. In short, ballet won at Lincoln Center. Both the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre have their home there. Other forms of dance (modern, Ailey) and smaller ballet companies (Joffrey) have found their home at City Center (as well as at the Joyce, Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Project, etc). Read more…


Oh how I love a good copy-editor. After years and years of working on a book, someone else goes through the text, word-by-word, comma-by-comma, with an attention to detail that surpasses my own. As a former word-processor, I catch a lot of unforced errors and know that consistency is the primary rule. What I love about the copy-editors is that they find errors that I have long ago stopped seeing. And they ask good questions that clarify meaning and word-choice. All this to say: A Place for Us is in production! (Available in September.)


Ballet Class

Today the fellows of the Center for Ballet and the Arts took a ballet class given by Melissa Barak, another fellow. CBA boasts a beautiful studio on the ground floor of Cooper Square, but the shades are always drawn. (I wish they would be open occasionally—ballet on the street—but I was grateful they were not today.) Jennifer Homans, CBA’s founder and director, believes that to understand ballet we have to start with class. Read more…

CC as shriner

New York Arts Center: 1953

Mecca Temple, 135 55th St., 1929 (later City Center). New York Historical Society.

The Rockefeller brothers, long committed to philanthropy, began batting around ideas for a cultural center in New York in 1953. The grandiosity of the idea may have been possible only in the minds of people like the Rockefellers, or Robert Moses. When they joined forces, it was inevitable. Read more…

Human Relations

I have long wanted to know more about an oddly named enterprise at the New School called the Human Relations Center. I had a hunch that it was key to the longer story about women at The New School. Some time in the archives confirms that, yep, it is. Read more…



Designing the exhibit component on Rikers Island is crashing to an end, full speed. There are many, many details to be attended to before the opening of the exhibition States of Incarceration on April 1, 2016. What slowed us down in finalizing details is what also has been the most profound part of the project: our conversations with men from the Fortune Society. Read more…

museum of innocence

Objects and Space

My class on “Arts and Social Engagement” ends with a look at institutions and policy. Bricks-and-mortar and intellectual property laws seem destined to stultify conversation on the arts. But both institutions and policy structure channels of access (or not), value (or not), and innovation (or not). Read more…

Rikers MTA on the map


We are moving in on Rikers. Students have decided upon the theme of the visibility/invisibility paradox of the island. For some, Rikers is hypervisible. They work there, they know people confined there, they’ve been locked up there. For others, it is largely invisible from their New York. An island in a city made up of islands, connected by one lone long bridge, one public bus, and guarded by patrols on water and land. The closest some come to the place is in flying right over it as the plane charges off the runway at LaGuardia. Even then, you have to know what you’re looking at to see it. Read more…


In the most recent Writing History seminar, Nathan Connolly discussed how to narrate large social structures and processes through the tales of individual people. (His much-honored book, A World More Concrete, takes up this question by looking at real estate in Jim Crow Miami.) This is an enduring question for historians, particularly those trained in the politics and ideologies emerging from social history, history from the “bottom up,” the past of plumbers not presidents. How do we make structural forces, such as capitalism and racism, dynamic narratives? How do we engage readers with stories of these forces in lives instead of relying on concepts to do the action? Read more…


Aaron Shkuda and I co-edited a special section in the Journal of Urban History on arts and urbanization in postwar U.S. cities. Articles by Joanna Dee Das, Susannah Engstrom, Matt Reynolds, Jeffrey Trask, Aaron, and me. (Introduction by me as well.) It’s available here!


Critiquing Critics

In class recently we discussed the role of critics. Much like a curator (our previous week’s topic), critics mediate an artwork for an audience. If a curator has multiple concerns, taking care of artwork, artist, institution, and audience, a critic is more solely concerned with the artwork, how it works, whether it works, for whom. Read more…

Painter, Locke Harvard

Painter History

Nell Painter, “Locke Harvard with Gradient 72,” Art History Volume XXVII, Ancestral Arts (2013)

Writing History: the seminar’s name describes its purpose. Luckily, it’s landed at the New School, so that it is easy for me to participate in a conversation that usually occurs only in my head. How can we be more creative in our writing about the past? How can thinking about being a writer make me a better historian? First up this semester: Nell Painter, historian and writer extraordinaire. Now she’s a visual artist. That is a trajectory I love, even if I cannot emulate. Read more…

MNY224538 Rikers ca1915

Prison Was…

Photo: Rikers Island, ca. 1915, Museum of the City of New York

Incarceration will occupy much of my fall semester. With Radhika Subramaniam, I am teaching the course that will build the New School’s contribution to the exhibition on the history of incarceration overseen by the Humanities Action Lab. Twenty universities will be teaching a similar course, each contributing a piece to the exhibition based on a local site. Ours is Rikers. Read more…

Offense & Dissent: Image, Conflict, Belonging 2015-07-27 12-12-55

Curating the Archives

The summer 2014 exhibition is now online! The virtual version includes reflections about the unusual demands of the exhibition from the curators, exhibition designer, and university archivist. Here is my conversation with Wendy Scheir, Director of the New School Archives and Special Collections, about curating the archives. Read more…

Hamilton musical

Hamilton, the Musical

Lin-Manual Miranda has combined some of my favorite things — musicals, hip-hop, and history. It’s a compelling spectacle: a familiar story of the founding of a new nation told through a less familiar figure (Hamilton), a multi-racial cast (African Americans and Latinos in the prominent roles of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, the Marquis de Lafayette), and a contemporary musical genre. Beyond those innovative elements, though, why is it so compelling? Read more…


Welcome to the Neue School

This spring the New School announced a new branding identity, one based on a specially made font (called “Neue”) and a new combination of colors (red, white, and black) — all standing on two strong horizontal parallel bands. Both these bands and the font pick up on earlier visual graphics of the school, in the covers of early course bulletins and the building at 66 W. 12th St. designed by Joseph Urban. Read more…


Imagining NYC

In this book, Christoph Lindner traces the New York that appears in literature and the visual arts in the early 20th century. He divides the imaginations into two sections, one vertical (skyscrapers), one horizontal (sidewalks), and ties creative pictures to urban plans and forms. In this, he adds an attention to spatiality to that of visuality in modernism. The city is not only seen but walked. Read more…

City Lost&Found

The City Lost & Found

This exhibit on “Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, from 1960-80,” is on view at the Princeton Art Museum until early June. The curators have assembled an impressive array of photographs, artworks, film, and historical artifacts to reveal how images became an indelible part of urban life during this period. Read more…

Mom-and-Pop Institutions

The New School has attracted a string of devoted, long-serving administrators, most of whom have been women. One of them was Wally Osterholz, who worked in the Adult Division for forty-five years, from 1962 to 2007. Most had no idea what Wally’s job description was, as Sondra Farganis described it, and yet she seemed to know everybody and how to get anything done. Read more…

NYC as lab

Studying NYC

My research, teaching, and daily life are in and about New York City. The city is a laboratory, as is often said in many a grant application — or proposal for a New School. And yet it can be difficult to figure out how to study it when you are in the swirl of the petri dish. My research assistant, Katerina Vaseva, suggested that I pool together resources for students and others interested in understanding this maze: check out the new page here. Suggestions for additions welcome!


The Carceral City

I walked through Crown Heights a few days ago and came across this odd mobile police unit. Students in my class knew exactly what it was: a M.U.S.T. – a mobile utility surveillance tower. It can be moved to a “place of interest,” a platform elevated from the base, flood lighting, infrared cameras – all monitored by one officer in the lifted hub, the driver’s seat of the van, or, I believe, remotely. If chaos ensues below, that person can call in extra troops with the push of a button from the encased hub, without having to exit to the street. The 21st century version of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, on a city corner near you. Read more…


Translation: to China! I have been selected for a one-week residency at Renmin University in Beijing sponsored by the Organization of American Historians. In June, I will give seminars on U.S. cultural history to faculty and graduate students there. Possible topics: the turn to visuality; the role of cities, urbanization, and institutions; transnational circulation; gender, race, and performance. There’s no doubt, however, that I will learn more from them.


Creative Justice

For two intensive weeks that covered 40 hours of class time, students in Piper Anderson’s “Creative Justice” class read materials on the criminal justice system and the transformative justice movement, conducted interviews with people about their views on policing, and worked together to lay out how a community arts project might intervene in the issues. They came up with fundamental questions to ask themselves and others: Read more…

Eureka Spgs

Writing and Walking

This last week has been a rare moment of focus and solitude, huddled in a Writers Colony in the Ozarks of Northwest Arkansas. It has reminded me of Kimerer LaMothe’s admonition: writing (really, thinking) requires moving. That wars with the other truism: writing requires putting your butt in a chair, routinely. There is no muse like persistence.

I believe in both. But sharing the dance background that I do with Kimerer, I think moving more often gets forgotten. Read more…

What ASE F14

What Did We Do?

The final class of “Arts and Social Engagement” included group presentations of a diorama of an exhibit about advertisements, a multi-case investigation of the intertwining of art and politics, and a proposal for changes to the new University Center to highlight more art and expression from students (which we started off in class, above). The occasion of the ending of the class invites the question: what did we do?
Read more…

The Art of Structure

John McPhee has been writing about writing in The New Yorker in the past few years and one notable essay was about the centrality of structure to non-fiction writing. Sarah Koenig, the writer and producer behind the podcast hit Serial, says that the appeal of the series rests on knowing how to structure a story. And Frederick Wiseman counseled those of us at a recent seminar about his work to look closely at the structure in his films as a clue to how he made decisions to use which image or footage where.

What’s so magical about structure?
Read more…

Nightingale Segregation

Divided Cities

Carl Nightingale has written a masterly, globe-spanning history of how segregation has split cities. It is a grand riposte to the shrinking topics of academia and a shiny model of border-crossing transnational thinking. Over nearly 500 years, from Asia to Africa, Europe, and the Americas, Nightingale argues that three ideas worked to consolidate separation as the key to urban formations: governmental directives, intellectual exchange of ideas in areas such as health and eugenics, and the rise of the capitalist real estate industry. He lights down to more specific detail in 1600s Madras, colonial era Calcutta, 19th century Algiers, and then settles into a longer discussion of Chicago and Johannesburg as exemplar 20th century cities riven by race branded in place. Read more…

Center for Ballet and the Arts

The Center for Ballet and the Arts (CBA) at NYU had an auspicious debut in September. There were the necessary calls to high ideas, grand plans, and donors to thank. But the center of the evening was a ballet class, taught by Mark Morris, with dancers from his company and American Ballet Theatre. What an odd – and exhilarating – experience. Read more…

Kyle deCamp Urban Renewal

Kyle deCamp, Urban Renewal: A Multimedia Solo

The choreographer, performer, urbanist Kyle deCamp performed a piece on urban renewal on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7pm, at Barnard. I participated in a panel after the performance, along with Robert Beauregard, Reinhold Martin, and Mabel Wilson.

Kyle de Camp’s Urban Renewal brings together personal narrative, history and memory, with acuity to movement and place. This is a theater piece, but de Camp began her career as a dancer, and I think that perspective seeps through the entire project. Moving through projections on the floor and up the back wall, de Camp puts herself into outlines of her family home. Sketches of furniture move; rooms scroll up and away; she is moving in place. Read more…


Yes, And: Thinking about Cities

I had the pleasure of reading Aseem Inam’s new book recently. I am not an urban planner nor an urban designer nor an expert in urban policy. But looking at urban issues in the past ends up touching upon all of these fields. I approach current books in these fields, then, with some hesitancy as I come to it as an outsider of sorts, informed by a different training and bibliography. So one of the many reasons Designing Urban Transformation was a pleasure to read is because I forgot my trepidation. The book is for people who care about cities.

Read more…

Irene and Vernon Castle.
Source: http://www.danceheritage.org/castle.html

Bodies in Motion

As shocking as the balloon nudes of Matisse and fractured bodies of Duchamp were, at least they stayed on the canvas. There bodies remained odd, perhaps unsettling but still. Bodies dancing on stages and in dancehalls outside of the Armory Show, however, were vibrantly – even dangerously — on edge. At the time of the exhibit, a dance craze was sweeping the nation, lifting young men and women off their feet, toward each other, and in pursuit of pleasure and escape. Read more…

The Rite of Spring by Vaslav Nijinsky (Dance Magazine Archives)

“The Rite Of Spring”

Spring 1913: artwork that caused outrage, derision, acclaim, and confusion. Movement never seen before: feet pounding, torsos thrashing, limbs akimbo. Sounds never heard before: violins used like drums in relentless pulsation, full orchestra instrumentation loud and moaning, little melody or harmony to blunt the onslaught of percussion.

Now considered a masterpiece. Read more…


Why do people move to the city?

It’s no surprise that 9/11 caused me to wonder why I live in New York City. I don’t have a job that is easily movable, but still: why stay in a place where your chance of being caught in a terrorist attack are exponentially greater than in Bowling Green, Ohio, or Eugene, Oregon? While the attacks caused personal consternation, they also prompted intellectual ones: why do people move to the city? Read more…


The First Day: Two Truths and a Lie

I have eaten at a diner in all 50 states; I helped start a company; I have jumped out of plane. Two truths and a lie: it’s a common “icebreaker,” an informal game used to create connections and foster familiarity. In this one, a person comes up with two truths and a lie about herself and the group has to figure out which one is the lie. Read more…

Aims of Education

Convocation address, The New School, September 2009.

I am on my fourth career. I think it’s going pretty well, but I’m not ruling out a fifth, or a sixth. I got started on careers early. As family lore has it, I told my parents at age three that I wanted to take ballet classes. A random class at the YMCA around the corner became five times per week with multiple performances by age ten. At fourteen, I was auditioning for the prestigious summer program of the New York City Ballet. This entailed hiding my mother who barely topped five feet to maintain the illusion that I might just reach the short end of the range of a City Ballet dancer at five feet four inches. (I continue to live in hope.) I graduated from high school at sixteen with the intention of never going to college. After a woeful year at Cleveland Ballet, I landed at a small liberal arts college, hours from a major city or any ballet company. I told my parents that I was just going to see how the year went, that I might return to the world of dance. Instead, I never brought up the prospect of leaving college again. Read more…


Sailors, Fancy Free

Exhibition Object and Text, Masterpieces of Everyday New York: Objects as Story (Kellen Gallery, Shelia Johnson Design Center, The New School, 2013)

In the ballet Fancy Free three sailors burst onto the stage, liberated from duty for a short leave. Leaning against a lamppost outside a bar, they wait for the city to happen. A woman passes, and action begins. Three ply their charms on her, one tires of the game, and another woman saunters by. Competition grows between the three men for two women, resulting in dueling solos. The fight amongst the sailors takes over, the women realize they have been forgotten and stride off, and the men find themselves where they began, waiting for something to happen. A third woman saunters by. Read more…


Seeing the City: West Side Story and New York

The movie West Side Story opens with an aerial panorama of New York City, starting from the southern tip of Manhattan with a view that encompasses the divide and coming together of the Hudson and East Rivers, moving over the concentric circling entrance ramps of the Triborough bridge to the dense skyscrapers of Midtown, patterned scape of Columbia University and Stuyvesant housing complex, and then following the diagonal cut of Broadway in the grid to swoop down to the street, to a worn concrete basketball court. The Jets begin snapping their fingers. Read more…

Coney Island Boardwalk (photo by Julia Foulkes)

From Coney Island to Lincoln Center, From Strangeness to Fantasy

Cornell University Architecture Workshop (2010)

Architects know that the built environment can evoke fantasies. But what happens to those fantasies over time?

In the case of Coney Island, strangers at the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries sought belonging in an escape to the beach, outside of the dense overbearing industrial landscape of Manhattan. There they found white castles, whirring rides, log chutes, and steeplechases. The fantastical world of such amusements heightened fears of a city – acrophobia, claustrophobia – in an attempt to ameliorate them. Its decay throughout the 20th century may be an indication of the changes in our fears – and the fantasies we need to confront them. What phobia could restore the need for Coney Island now? Read more…



Part of “This is Your Exhibition,” on view on 3rd Floor, 66 W. 12th St.. Image source: MoMa 

I grew up loving ballet, hating modern dance. Ballet was beauty and grace personified. Modern dance was so defiant and earnest. Wasn’t art about transcendence? A course in feminist philosophy in college, however, shifted my perspective. Now I saw ballet as frivolous and modern dance as ideas in action. At the center of the shift: forceful, demanding, jumping women. Celebration indeed. Read more…

Democratizing the Archives

Co-authored with Claire Potter

What’s in an archive? This was the question that brought Claire Potter’s class, “New York Activists and Their Worlds, 1968-2000,” to the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the New York Public Library (NYPL) on February 19 for the first of several workshops. After a few lessons on how to behave—checking our coats, washing our hands, and keeping things in order—Thomas Lannon, Assistant Curator, began to dip into boxes. During this first workshop, students were able to view a photo album of gay writer and activist David Feinberg. Preserved for their enduring value, photos in the album are as Feinberg left them, unlabeled and undated. The class also looked at clips of ACT-UP oral histories, and learned how to navigate the Library’s finding aids as guides to additional archival collections. Read more…


Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects

Theaster Gates received the first Vera List Center Prize for Art and Social Justice in 2013; this essay, with others, on Gates’ works in Carin Kuoni, ed. Entry Points: The Vera List Center Field Guide on Art and Social Justice, No. 1 (Duke University Press, 2015)

Theaster Gates himself and the spaces he has created are inspiring. Interrogating absence – identifying what’s missing – and harboring what’s thrown out, fills the places and allows us to see “what could happen.” There is more deliberation in the filling than this explanation of the process suggests, however. He generally has filled spaces not with whatever is thrown out but with resources of value to African Americans, whether past issues of Ebony and Jet or the records of Dr. Wax. He wants to see what happens in a largely overlooked neighborhood that is populated by 99.2% African Americans, 72% who are under 18. This is crucial to the art and the impact, and yet how race and youth structure his practice is rarely articulated. Read more…


Lincoln Center, The Rockefellers, and New York City

Rockefeller Archives Center, Research Report (Fall 2005)

Rockefeller explained his interest in Lincoln Center both by the particularities of the historical moment and the legacy of the arts beyond those particularities. He reasoned that postwar society in the U.S. was in an era of prosperity, with more leisure time available to more people than at any other time in history. The arts served to fill leisure time fruitfully, and spiritually. For while economic needs were being met and scientific advances in medicine had increased longevity, people’s spirits were diminished, and the arts could satisfy yearnings for fulfillment on a deeper, more meaningful level. Rockefeller also noted that famous cities in history – Rome, Athens, Paris, Kyoto – were known for their arts, not their political, economic, or business successes. Rockefeller was also concerned with the international dimensions of the United States’ power and recognized that most countries did not think highly of America’s culture. In his view, Lincoln Center would feature the best of the performing arts from the U.S. and provide a place to present the best of the performing arts from countries around the world to U.S. audiences. For Rockefeller, then, the performing arts in the 1950s fused the specific needs of the historical moment with a long-lasting, worldwide legacy. Read more…

Dance and the City

Festschrift for Rüdiger Kunow (2013)

All great art is born of the metropolis. — Ezra Pound

For some years now I have been pondering the ties between cities and the arts. This pondering began from one of those seemingly random questions in the oral defense of my dissertation on the development of modern dance in the United States in the 1930s. As I was articulating the Americanism of modern dance, a committee member asked, “But is New York American?” With a righteous New York manner, I defended the Americanism of my new home, contrasting its immigrant and ethnic pluralism with the homogeneity of the often valorized heartland. But I knew his question uncovered something I had not thought enough about: that the dancers I researched and wrote about almost all lived in New York, even if they toured the United States and sought national acclaim and nationalist meaning in their dance. Read more…


“My Feet are Again on This Earth”

in African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, ed. Daniel Schulman (Spertus Museum and Northwester University Press, 2009)

“My feet are again on this earth,” the dancer Pearl Primus exclaimed upon receiving word in May 1948 of the Rosenwald fellowship granted to her, “and my preparations and plans are being made with great care.”i Dancers regularly leap off the ground and Primus was well known for her gravity-defying jumps–but the wonder in Primus’s exclamation expressed another kind of buoyancy: encouragement and financial support to a genre of the arts that was most often fueled by sheer determination. Read more…


A New School Minute (or Two)

For Alumni Day on May 11, 2013, the Alumni Office asked twenty faculty and staff to give a 60-second lecture. Tasked with the topic of “New School History,” it was quite a challenge! The results are available here. I started off with a longer version that better encapsulates my theme — I hope we’re still a school rather than just a university. Here is that longer version. Read more…


Offense + Dissent: Image, Conflict, Belonging

Exhibition at Kellen Gallery, The New School (2014); Curators: Julia Foulkes, Mark Larrimore, and Radhika Subramaniam

Twenty-five years ago, a furor erupted at The New School when Sekou Sundiata, poet, performer, and professor, at Eugene Lang College, stung by an image exhibited in the Parsons Galleries, scrawled his dissent across it. His “X” inspired others and soon there were over 40 signatures covering the image. Read more…


The (Rural and Urban) Lives of Bees

I had the privilege to go to Mildred’s Lane on a work retreat recently. Founded by the artists J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, Mildred’s Lane is a farm by the Delaware River at the border of Pennsylvania and New York. (The nearest town is Narrowsburg, NY.) The farm hosts multiple buildings, most of them small installations with room enough for a bed and an imagination. I was lucky enough to nab the Grafter’s cabin put together by Morgan and dedicated to the beekeeping traditions in her family. Large netted hoods hung above my bed; the walls were plastered with waxed pages of Maurice’s Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee (1901); and the doors opened on to a vista of garden, field, trees – and nearby compost heap, which might attract “a parade of critters,” according to Morgan. Read more…


Again Please, Anne

A tribute to my father, who died in 2012.

I had never watched someone die before. Tracy Atkinson was killed in a car accident at age 14. Chip’s paramour-in-mind hung himself from a belt over a shower curtain rod. Grandparents disappeared, transforming from material to vapor over days months years, in meandering suspension, like a balloon that loses air through its rubbery membrane rather than by a pinprick. You, though, died. Over six days. And I watched you mark the destined decline, checking off items on your last list, from growing weariness to shuffling a few steps to looking out from the bed at the forest that beckoned. You bent to the side, arched over an ache. “I think that’s my spleen breaking down.” You said you weren’t scared. “I know I’m just going off to la-la land.” You twitched awake from an unbidden stupor to see me watching you. “You are an angel.”

Read more…