It's the small kindnesses you remember

I have a memory that keeps coming back to me. It's a small memory. No big drama or tears were involved. Even though it was 24 years ago, it persists. I thought of it just now while doing dishes and decided to set it down in writing.

It was 1986 and I was 19, living in an apartment in West Philly, although I spent a lot of time hanging out in a squat occupied by a bunch of punks. One evening, a cute boy from the squat invited me to his friend's apartment. I don't remember the boy's name, only that he had a dark brown mohawk and was wearing a thin pink t-shirt over his bony torso.

He and I had a great time walking to the apartment, laughing and flirting. At one point he gave me a piggy-back ride and I rested my head against the back of his neck, relishing the small intimacy.

Once we reached our destination, however, I shut down. Two men lived in the apartment--they were in their thirties, which seemed impossibly old and sophisticated. But more than their age intimidated me: they were successful artists and their apartment was filled with paintings and record albums and instruments. One was a photography professor at Drexel; the other a musician.

They were like no one I'd ever met. I'd only recently moved from my parents' home in New Jersey. My dad worked in a factory and my mom was a grocery store checker. No one we knew made art--why would they?

The men gave us beer and we talked. Or they talked. I said nothing. I sat there silent as a ghost. I can't remember what they discussed, but I remember how I felt. Young, stupid, uneducated, unwashed, just some lame punk with dyed blonde hair hanging in one eye (both were lined with thick black eyeliner), too-tight jeans and Converse. As if that costume could make me smart. As if that costume could make me cool. I wasn't going to college. I wasn't making art. I worked at an ice cream parlor in University City for Chrissakes. I had nothing to say.

At one point, after we'd been there an hour, mohawk guy turned to me. "You haven't said anything," he said. "You've just been sitting there and haven't said a single word."

It was clear from his tone he was embarrassed by me. He'd thought I was cool enough to bring to his friends, but he'd found me out. I wasn't cool. I was awkward and working class.

One of the men in the apartment looked at me. "She's just checking it out. Right?" he said, smiling. "Just checking out the scene."

I looked down at my hands and smiled and nodded, happy to have a reason for my silence. And that was the end of it. Shortly after, we left.

To this day, I am grateful to the man in the apartment. I never saw him again, never saw mohawk boy again either, but I remember clearly the compassion in the man's voice. He understood I was scared and confused and gave me a plausible excuse. I wasn't intimidated into muteness. I was simply getting the lay of the land. I wasn't some poseur in my band button-laden denim jacket. I was checking it out.

It's weird that I remember this small incident, weirder still that it pops up when I least expect it. But when it does, I'm flooded with gratitude. And hope for humanity, corny and grandiose as it sounds for such a trifle. So thank you, whoever you are! Know that your small kindness, your empathy, has stayed with me and bolsters me still.
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Don't Delete That FB Account

Lately there's been a lot of hating on Facebook. That movie. The money Zuckerberg donated to Newark schools. And then this latest email announcement, whatever that is. I saw someone call it Markxism in a recent post on, well, Facebook.

A lot of people I follow on Twitter hate FB--not just recently either, not just part of the anti-Zuck zeitgeist, but for a while now, over a year. I've heard it called a waste of time, an invasion of privacy, and more importantly, an ineffective way to "market" yourself and your books. Someone even asked, on Twitter, if FB resulted in sales and concluded no. And then concluded it was time to delete their account.

I completely disagree.

Part of my opinion may be because I'm not good at tweeting, as chronicled in an earlier post. (Yes, I linked to myself, mirrors within mirrors.)

But it's more than my lame tweeting. I love Facebook. First of all, my family's on it. I see photos of my sister in Miami, my mom in Virginia, my niece in upstate New York. I learn about their daily lives. I even like to hear what they're having for dinner. And I've lived all over the country, had a variety of jobs, and attended a bunch of schools. I made a lot of friends along the way, and they're all on FB. I "see" them regularly. And I'm thrilled to do it. The social networking side works for me.

On the business side, on the purely commercial side, FB has resulted in publicity for Brains. First off, most of the readers of Brains contact me via Facebook. They "friend" me and send me FB messages about how they loved the book. And photos of them and the book. That's how I found out about this fabulous couple who dressed as my main characters for Halloween.

But old friends have resulted in surprising publicity too. A grad school friend who's now a marketer in SF contacted me about a cool project, a high school friend who writes for a paper wrote a profile, and a former student made the Brains trailer. Recently I was on PBS and the producer communicated with me exclusively via FB (except for a phone call or two). My friends and family keep on reposting news about the book--signings, reviews, etc. I've gotten way more of those than retweets. Actually, it's a wonder they're not sick of me yet, but unlike the (mostly) anonymous followers on Twitter, they actually know me and so are a little more forgiving.

Maybe FB works for me because I was perfectly happy to see pictures of my friends' beautiful babies on FB, to find out where they wound up living and who they married, to reconnect with them--simply for its own sake. I was active on FB before Brains came out. That they were able to help me out after its release is a little lagniappe. A bonus.

So I say this to you writers who want to delete your FB accounts--reconsider! Especially if you keep up with old friends from your many different incarnations--fellow students, co-workers, bandmates, lovers, roommates, roommates' lovers. They might be able to help you out a bit with marketing--but even more important than that, they help you remember your life.
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