Around the time I decided to take writing seriously, my family moved to a new town. I remember filching a worn copy of People of the City from a bookshelf, beginning to read it: maybe it could teach me a thing or two about how to write a novel. And since I was only fifteen, I saw no error in lifting entire paragraphs of Cyprian Ekwensi’s story and, after changing the characters’ names, putting them into mine. Any Nigerian writer who has tried to write about Lagos as a city with feeling descends from Ekwensi.
The United States, even as it pursued its neo-imperial ambitions, championed the human rights revolution that began after World War II. But today, for the first time since the late Forties, Americans and their government are demonstrably headed in the opposite direction. It is not simply that assassination has become a mainstay of US foreign policy. It is that these things are the new normal: torture; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; indefinite detention; assassination; extra-judicial killing. This is not who we are, as President Obama was fond of saying. And yet, it is what we do.
I first drifted into the Father Brown and Miss Fisher television series in 2018, while under the effects of pain medication and postsurgical malaise. Even though my family and I are safely housed, and my own case of Covid-19 has been relatively mild, I see the shadow of prolonged illness all around us, and I’ve instinctively returned to my cozy mysteries. The traditional cozy is a soft-boiled whodunit featuring an amateur sleuth operating within an intimate community, mostly outside the traditional police force.
Marisa Mazria Katz: Your paintings feel very experiential, almost like walking through a landscape. And so much of your imagery seems to have been derived from the traveling you do. Is there a sense that if that stops, so will the inspiration for your art? Yevgeniya Baras: I have so much mining to do because of the many chapters I’ve already lived that I’m not worried about running out of material to build meaning from. And being an immigrant ends up being a blessing in this case because I speak two languages fluently. So I’m reading in two, I’m watching in two. I’m talking on Skype with friends in two. I have this larger world.
In the worst of ironies, outrage at the system has, at least for now, made the system more terrifying than ever. Across social media, peaceful protesters have expressed unease that the police are no longer there to protect them, that—as much of the black community has sensed for years—that the police are menacing, heavily armed antagonists. For its part, the city authorities have struggled to maintain a semblance of order, without provoking yet further unrest—even as the president sends inflammatory tweets threatening more lethal force.
The piano trio has always held a special place in my experience—and imagination—of jazz clubs. And the most exciting debut on record that I’ve heard in the last year is Micah Thomas’s trio, recorded live last spring at Kitano, a small club in New York. Still very young—a twenty-two-year-old student finishing a master’s at Juilliard—and quite unassuming, Thomas isn’t trying to reinvent the piano trio so much as to offer his own gloss on it. The album, Tide, is earnest, even a little old-fashioned; a sound more evocative of the 1960s—or perhaps of a young man’s dream of 1960s jazz—than of the 2020s.
Matt Seaton: What is polling good for, why does it matter, and what are its limits? Harry Enten: Election polling can be used to help understand which issues matter to people, which can in turn help us understand why someone gets elected. I personally think the horserace component is fun, and plenty of people seem to agree. But look for analysis that knows its limits. Look for someone who explains why they think what they think. Someone who clearly states what their confidence is in any given forecast. Polling itself, and polling analysis, have a margin of error—and a margin of interpretation; anyone who is too certain should not be trusted.
Amid this combined health and economic crisis, we are all struggling to take care of our families in new and unfamiliar ways. That is when it dawned on me that the pandemic had created something that we at the National Domestic Workers Alliance have sought to create for decades: mass public awareness about the importance of care work. We had not, as a nation, recognized how essential caregivers are—whether family members or professional workers—to the very fabric of our society and the infrastructure of our economy. That is, until now.
All these months later, as we go about our pandemic days, waiting to be out in the world again, I think about that moment when Lucy began to dance in Richard Nelson’s recent play The Michaels, an ordinary moment that cracked open and allowed an extraordinary grace to emerge. It’s helped me mourn all that we are missing: the live performances we can’t attend because there are none, the lost jobs, the out-of-work performers, the struggling institutions. And, of course, the dead.