Annals of Mobility

April 15, 2013

The dog is 13 this year; that’s 91 in human years.  He’s pretty spry, all things considered, but the changes are noticeable and frequent as of late: he is slower on our walks, resists the longer distances, has trouble with stairs and with standing up or lying down. We’ve just invested in a ramp for the car. I’m reluctant to subject him to long car rides anymore, given how stiff he is afterwards from limited space and dehydration. This is the dog who’s traveled cross country twice, and up and down both coasts several times.

But I project.

Photo by Zadi Diaz from Flickr Creative Commons

February 18, 2013


In an early episode of MAD MEN, Betty Draper and her friend Francine are gossiping in Betty’s kitchen about their new neighbor, the scandalous Helen Bishop, divorcee and single mother.

Francine: Have you seen her walking, up there on tree ridge?  Where the hell is she walking to?
Betty:  (shakes her head as she smears cream cheese onto a celery stick) I don’t know.

January 14, 2013


In a Q&A with PBS, filmmaker Perry Miller Adato talked about her documentary Paris: the Luminous Years (2010), which I recently learned about and—because I am hopeless when it comes to all things Parisian—I immediately watched.  About the unprecedented gathering of artists in Paris during the early part of the 20th century, Adato said:

From 1905-1930, I would say that anybody who did anything which is important in any of the arts at that time were [sic] there.  It was the place to be.  As Gertrude Stein said, “We all came to Paris  – it was where we had to be.” […] Artists all over Europe knew what was happening in Paris, and they wanted to be there.  For however long they were there, it changed their life [sic] and it changed their work.

December 10, 2012

It all started with Googlemaps.  I was researching a neighborhood in NW Washington, DC, where I wanted to set a story.  The area had to meet certain requirements: no more than x number of Metro stops from a town in Maryland; a mostly African-American neighborhood in the early 1970s, which would later gentrify.  The house I envisioned was a brick row-house just above street level, with a porch, and a wrought-iron gate, next door to a somewhat unkempt house that had a chain-link fence and a concrete slab in place of grass.  It had to be within walking distance from a park.   My research brought me to Pleasant Plains, and I clicked the “street view” icon—that little orange man you can click-and-drag around the map in order to see actual images of a street.

Photo by Jean Paul Silver, from Flickr Creative Commons

November 18, 2012

In New York City, where I live, thousands were displaced before and during Sandy: living in cramped quarters with friends or family, limited by downed transit and, in many cases, cut off from the instant, continual communications that we’ve all come to take for granted.   Even so, there were, in my small world, such a wide range of experiences — from horrific to inconvenient to a nice break from normal obligations.  For some, displacement and/or disconnection were traumatic; for others, they were a welcome disruption.

Photo from Moonrise Kingdom

November 8, 2012

Click here to read more about “Annals of Mobility,” a monthly column here at The Common.


Of Wes Anderson and his latest film Moonrise Kingdom, Geoffrey O’Brien wrote in the New York Review of Books:

To make a world where everything looks newly made is part of the great adventurousness of his work […] It is perhaps the only setting in which Sam and Suzy could begin to articulate their goal:  ‘to go on adventures and not get stuck in one place.’ 

Photo from, from Flickr Creative Commons

November 8, 2012

Click here to read more about “Annals of Mobility,” a monthly column here at The Common.

First day of class: after a writing exercise that helps break the ice – 10 minutes of “put someone you don’t know very well in a situation of physical duress, and write the scene in first person” (a few students share out loud, while we listen and then comment)—I ask the students to go around the room and say their name, major, and “where they’re from.”  I use air quotes, and they all laugh, knowingly.  We all understand that the question is fraught, and complex.  In this room of twelve (including me), a college classroom in New York City, only two offer a simple answer to the question: I am from Dallas, Texas.  I am from Atlanta, Georgia.  Third and fourth generation, respectively.   Two out of twelve.


One student explains that he was born and raised in Guatemala but is uncomfortable saying so, because in response he is sometimes asked, “Why are you white?”  Another student says she grew up in California but has been living and working in Shanghai and feels more “from” there than anywhere now.  An older student, returning to school after many years, speaks with an Irish lilt and says she thinks of herself as a New Yorker.  Yet another says that her name is Sarah, but it’s also Elise, and her family and childhood friends call her Sarah, but since she’s left home people call her Elise, so we can call her whatever we like.


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