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Some Democrats warn they could vote against giant spending bill if key climate provisions nixed

Several Senate Democrats expressed concerns Monday about Sen. Joe Manchin's refusal to support key climate change provisions in the sweeping spending and tax package backed by President Joe Biden, with some going as far as warning they may withdraw their support for the package if it significantly weakens the climate proposals.
Read full article on: edition.cnn.com
Who is Jane Coaston? Meet ‘The View’s New Guest Host, A New York Times Contributor
The View meets The New York Times, thanks to this week's guest host.
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nypost.com
The remote work revolution hasn’t happened yet
Aleutie/iStock/Getty Images Plus Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen on why we need to rethink the role of work in our lives. It’s hard to track all the ways this pandemic has upended “normal” life, but surely one of the most significant changes has been how and where, and even when, we work. You might call the last year or so a remote work revolution, but that’s not quite right. For one thing, remote work wasn’t an option for most of the country. But even for the fortunate people who were able to work from home, what they were doing wasn’t really working. It’s more like a panicked compromise forged under the chaos of a national emergency. But as we inch our way toward the other side of this pandemic — or at least the closest we’ll get to the other side of it — we have an opportunity to rethink our broken relationship to work. The pandemic was an inflection point, and what happens or doesn’t happen next is up to us. This is the case that Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen make in their new book, called Out of Office, and it’s the best thing I’ve read so far on this topic. In truth, the book isn’t really about remote work — it’s about work. And not just what it has meant and could mean, but also why the status quo isn’t sustainable, for anyone. I reached out to Petersen and Warzel for the latest episode of Vox Conversations. We talk about the world they hope we build, a world in which our jobs don’t trump everything else in our lives, where we think differently about our own labor and the ways we advocate for others, and where, in their words, “We don’t work from home because work is what matters most. We work from home to free ourselves to focus on what actually does.” Below is an excerpt from our conversation, edited for length and clarity. As always, there’s much more in the full podcast, so subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Sean Illing It’s fair to say we’ve done a very bad job in this country of imposing boundaries around work and life. When you two look around the world, do you see better models of work-life balance? Charlie Warzel I’ll let Annie talk a little bit about the boundaries thing, because she came up with a really great framework for this. The one thing I’ll say is that yes, a lot of the erosion of any work-life balance is, it’s so thoroughly embedded in American culture that it’s not just that we have a hard time maintaining it, or we don’t do a particularly good job of educating people about it; it’s that we value and celebrate the opposite of it. We value and celebrate the complete destruction of it. People set expectations about when to work and how much to work and when to be in touch. And if you violate those standards or those expectations, it’s not seen as something to have a conversation with your boss about and say, like, “Hey, you’re really not sticking to the plan here.” It’s celebrated. And it’s like, “Well, why can’t you be a little more like so-and-so? They work on Sundays.” Even though the expectation is you’re not in the office, you’re not working those days. Anne Helen Petersen I’d say that I’ve been thinking a lot about how the American work ethic is a fetishism of work, the process of work, and not of the worker. The worker is kind of collateral damage in that understanding. And within that framework, within that understanding, it can’t be contingent upon the individual to try to change that. An individual cannot protect themselves from this larger ideological force, which is that better work is always more work. And so the thing that I’ve thought a lot about is that instead of using this language of boundaries, because boundaries are the responsibility of the individual, they are always violated. And when they are violated, it is your fault as an individual for not maintaining them. Instead, we could think of guardrails. Out here in the West where we live, you have these guardrails on the mountain passes, which are maintained by the government, by a larger entity. And they are there to protect everyone. We all pay into them through taxes to protect everyone. And I’m not saying that federally mandated work hours, or understanding of what good work is, has to look like that. That does not necessarily have to be the solution. In the book there’s some interesting case studies in other countries, where they have attempted to mandate no email after certain work hours and that sort of thing. And they failed, because they haven’t been robust enough to grapple with the realities of global capitalism. If you say, in France, you cannot email after 5 pm, there will be corporations, global corporations, that are always figuring out exceptions to this. People will just violate it. So at least for the time being, until labor legislation catches up to the current reality of work — which I think is a major and an important goal moving forward — companies, if they do say that they want to value work-life balance, or say that they want their workers to not burn out, to be sustainable, they have to maintain standards of what good work looks like; these guardrails. And so that looks like, “In our company, we do not correspond after 8 pm.” If you are a person who really does good work at night and that’s how you have arranged your flexible work schedule, great. But you do not send that email. You delay send, which is not a hard thing. You delay send that message, that email, whatever it is, until the morning, until standard working hours. And most importantly, if you violate that standard, that guardrail, it becomes something that is actually a problem, not a low-key way to garner praise. Sean Illing We have a vision of work in this country as the primary source of identity and status and, as you put in the book, “the primary organizing factor in our lives.” You argue that we have to overturn that. What does work look like, once it’s been decentered in the way you two think it should be? Charlie Warzel So there’s this really interesting company called Gumroad. And it’s a platform for creators, essentially. And they went through this whole reorganization and had to change the way that their company works. And now they don’t have any employees except for the founder. Everyone’s a contractor. And what’s fascinating is the ethos of the company is “You don’t owe us anything but the work. You come in and you do this thing. We are not going to be friends. We’re not going to talk.” It’s extremely transactional, in a way that’s almost kind of cold and in that calculated tech way. I’m not saying this is a sustainable model for pretty much anyone, or the way the company should be run, but what’s so refreshing about it is this idea of being transactional with your company. You do a job for us, we give you money or some kind of benefits. And we get the labor that we paid for in return. There’s not going to be any of this extraneous guilt or commitment or whatever. And I think that it’s too extreme, but there’s something about the transactional nature of that, that is really refreshing and very helpful. And I think far less toxic than the “we are a family” ethos. Because families, as we all know, have their own problems and have their own toxic relationships that develop. And again, things like guilt. And I think that the way that we work has sort of adapted and had a lot of that kind of stuff glommed onto it. I think that a decentered working relationship is not completely cold, and there can be some personal relationship qualities to it. But at the end of the day, it’s a transaction. You are doing a job for some people, and the transaction comes to an end at some point, and you’ve fulfilled what you need to do for that amount of time. So a decentered environment means that we’re not telling people that they have to labor in this job and also get all of their social interactions out of their job. That you don’t have to be friends with everyone in your company. And it really demarcates your life outside of work from your life inside it. And that allows you then, once you have more of a clear boundary and clear expectations, you can devote more time to what’s outside of it. And you can have a clearer sense of who you are and what you value when you’re not this person. Anne Helen Petersen I’ll just say that the greatest trick that offices ever pulled was convincing office workers that they’re not workers. That they aren’t labor. And instead that they’re doing what they love or following a vocation, a calling. And thus that exploitation is not something to be worried about, or to fight back against, or to understand as unacceptable. I think there are so many conditions that office workers, and I will say nonprofit workers in particular, have come to find acceptable, because they do not think of themselves as labor. And one hope that I have, moving forward, is that office workers should think of ourselves as labor. We should think of ourselves in solidarity with so many other types of labor as well, because it’s good for other laborers who don’t have the privileges of remote work or of being able to labor at the same salaries, but it’s also good for preventing our own exploitation. Sean Illing This raises the question of what will rise up to fill the void in a world in which work has been decentered. And you have a whole chapter in the book on community, namely the absence of it. And I guess, for me, it’s very hard to imagine a world in which professional identity isn’t the main identity, if we don’t have sources of connection and meaning and solidarity in our communities. That’s a long way of saying that work feels like the only natural ground for identity in a hyper-individualistic society like ours. Charlie Warzel I don’t know. I think the thing that we always guard against in this book is being too pie-in-the-sky and understanding that a lot of these things are super entrenched in our culture. But it becomes a self-defeating mindset when you say, “Well, this is how we are.” I do think there’s a huge power in pulling people away for a second, from the way that they did things, and the realization that comes of that. So using ourselves as an example, using myself as an example, I knew that I worked too much when I lived in New York and was working for BuzzFeed. I knew that work was the central motivating axis, which most of my life completely revolved around. But when I left, when we left and moved to Montana, a month or two in, it became incredibly clear to me just how dominating that was. The fact that I had actually pushed a lot of my relationships out to make room for my work relationships, and then extending those after hours. The people who I worked with — I mean, it’s no coincidence Annie and I met at work. But our entire lives revolved around that. We went out almost every other night with people, and were we talking about work? Sort of, yes, no. But those are technically billable hours. And I didn’t realize how one-dimensional my life had become. I basically stopped doing things like hobbies. I certainly didn’t interact with my community. Work took up everything. And then once I was removed from that situation for a little bit, it seemed almost ridiculous. It was like, “How did I not realize this was happening?” And I’m not going to say that I’m some community organization paragon. I still need to work on a lot of this stuff, but the clarity that you get from extricating yourself from that situation, from just trying to decenter work a little bit, I think is super powerful. Anne Helen Petersen Most adults that I know that are about my age, so mid- to late 30s, early 40s, find it really, really hard to conceive of taking regular time for anything in their life that isn’t their job or parenting. Even carving out an hour a day, or an hour a week, for something like a hobby — or even more importantly, a commitment to something that is not related to your kid. So not soccer practice, but volunteering at any sort of organization that, again, is not related to parenting. It just feels inconceivable. I think that we should look at that very seriously, and think about the fact that if the only things that we say are valuable in our lives, through our actions, through the time allocated, are our jobs and our immediate families, we are not investing in our communities. We don’t value the people around us. And you see that reflected in avoidant choices. This is not an ideology without consequences, but my hope is this is also— we have gone through cycles. There is very good scholarship on this sort of ricocheting back between an individualist ethos and a collectivist ethos, even in the United States, which is so individualistic. There was a peak of collectivist activity [and] ideology first in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and then it declined a bit. And then it went back up leading into World War II and in the postwar period. And it wasn’t just like, “Oh yeah, let’s rally together around the war.” It was, “We want to be part of things. We want to hang out with other people.” And some of that affinity and joining was of things like the Klan, which are obviously not good sorts of community involvement. But then a lot of it too was just civic organizations broadly. Volunteer organizations, things like the Elks Club, being part of churches. Whatever you think about religious organizations or being religious in your own life, it allowed people to connect with people who weren’t their own immediate families or the people that they worked with. Charlie Warzel It’s made me think a little about our community involvement now and how tethered it is to work. A lot of people’s only volunteering happens because, like, JP Morgan has a “let’s go do Habitat for Humanity day,” or a lot of people only do service when they’re in school, in order to earn hours so that it can look good on a college transcript or something like that. It’s all attached to this kind of individualist achievement or being good at your job or checking this box. And it creates this attitude of service and community involvement to benefit just you. And I think Annie’s right, this is not without consequence. We see it reflected in our politics. We see it reflected in our culture in a really big way, and will working from home change that? No, but will decentering work in our lives potentially change that? Maybe. It’s certainly worth exploring, I think. Sean Illing Maybe one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it reminded us how much life alone, really truly alone, sucks. And I was glad to see you write about worker solidarity in this book. One worry that I have is that a world of remote work, a world where workers are more separated and cut off, might create even more barriers to labor organization. And I’m curious if there are templates or models for organizing in a world where remote work is more the norm. Charlie Warzel All of this stuff is relatively new. Again, some of the organizing we’ve seen in some of the tech companies like Google are templates to some degree for that. There’s a danger to it, obviously — in-person organization work and recruiting into that allows you to have sort of conversations that aren’t totally documented, or they can’t be immediately scooped up by management. Those things are obviously super helpful and if there’s no gathering place, etc., then that can be hard. But at the same time, part of the reason why we are able to work from anywhere is due to a lot of technological advancements, and a lot of those technological advancements also give people a megaphone and the ability to easily create widely shareable content, to be loud and in people’s faces. So I think that you’ve seen a lot of labor movements recently leveraging those tools to put a lot of pressure on people, on management. And I think that is generally good. And a lot of these technological tools are great for gathering a bunch of people in a room or in an app somewhere. So there’s always going to be this push and pull between surveillance and the ability to organize. Anne Helen Petersen I think sometimes we get bogged down in these particulars of, like, “Oh, it’s going to be harder, because we don’t have as strong of ties with individuals,” when the real barrier to organizing is anti-labor legislation. It is the actual policy that is in place. And more importantly — something that you hear labor advocates talk about a lot — the current labor laws have not been updated in any meaningful way to address the fissuring of the economy. The way that most people work today, the way that work seeps into the corners of our lives, but also just the freelancification of work as well. So those, I think, are the much larger goals that we need to be talking about and advocating for, instead of being more concerned about, like, “Oh, if I’m not going to lunch in person every day with the person next to me, it’s going to be harder to unionize.” It’s going to be harder to unionize when it’s so easy to union bust. That’s the larger conversation, I think. To hear the rest of the conversation, click here, and be sure to subscribe to Vox Conversations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
5 m
vox.com
Twitter Stock Soars Before Being Halted Amid Reports That CEO Jack Dorsey Is Stepping Down
Jack Dorsey is reportedly expected to leave his post as the social media giant's CEO.
6 m
newsweek.com
Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott take kids to dinner amid divorce rumors
The seemingly estranged couple dined with their kids at Ruth's Chris Steak House in on Saturday after they celebrated Thanksgiving separately.
6 m
nypost.com
At Jussie Smollett trial, Osundairo brothers at center stage
The former “Empire” actor contends he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault in downtown Chicago on a frigid night in January 2019. The siblings, who worked with him on the TV show, say he paid them $3,500 to pose as his attackers.
8 m
nypost.com
Joy Behar faces backlash for Thanksgiving coming out advice
Joy Behar offered up some life advice that was not well received by some.
8 m
edition.cnn.com
Cat Undergoes Hilarious Transformation After Getting in Owner's Fireplace
One pet lover was amazed, declaring that the feline looked like "a totally different cat."
newsweek.com
Ghislaine Maxwell’s Trial Begins in the Shadow of Jeffrey Epstein
Ms. Maxwell is charged with trafficking women and girls for her longtime partner, the disgraced financier who died in prison in 2019.
nytimes.com
New York defund police candidate for Gov. has NYPD detail, home protected by military with 'M16s'
A pro-defund the police official running for governor in New York is revealed as living on a military base with constant security and having NYPD security details
foxnews.com
The First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Could Be a Lifeline for Struggling New England Cities
East coast workers are preparing for a new industry that could shape the region's economic future
time.com
Bryan Adams dedicates Pirelli's 2022 calendar to 'the great stars of music'
Pirelli has unveiled "On the Road," its 2022 calendar starring some of the music industry's biggest names, including Iggy Pop, Cher, Grimes and Jennifer Hudson.
edition.cnn.com
Who Is Simone In Netflix’s ‘True Story’?
Kevin Hart's Netflix drama ends with a series of shocking twists.
nypost.com
Shop all the best deals from Walmart’s Cyber Monday 2021 sale
Head over to Walmart now for all the best Cyber Monday deals of 2021, including air fryers, vacuums, laptops and more. Save big before these deals run out!
nypost.com
Sweden's Eight-Hour Female PM Re-Elected To Form Single Party Minority Govt
Sweden's first female Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who resigned last week after barely eight hours, has been re-elected.
breitbart.com
Jack Dorsey Expected to Step Down as C.E.O. of Twitter
The social media pioneer, whose name has become synonymous with Twitter, is also the chief executive of another company, Square.
nytimes.com
Rep. Tom Suozzi to Run for Governor of New York
Mr. Suozzi will enter a crowded field of Democrats seeking to challenge the incumbent, Gov. Kathy Hochul.
nytimes.com
Megan Thee Stallion makes surprise appearance at BTS show for ‘Butter’ remix
The K-pop sensations hosted the "Body" rapper on Sunday during the second of their two-night stop in Los Angeles for their "Permission to Dance on Stage" tour.
nypost.com
Michigan moves past Alabama into third spot of USA TODAY Sports NCAA Re-Rank
Michigan surged in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll after its defeat of Ohio State, while Georgia and Cincinnati still hold top two spots.       
usatoday.com
Global markets assess threat of Omicron variant
Stocks rebound after plunging on Black Friday over fears of the Omicron coronavirus variant. CNN's Christine Romans reports.
edition.cnn.com
Teen selling PlayStation shot when meeting potential buyer in Texas
A teenager trying to sell his PlayStation 5 was shot and hospitalized Sunday in Harris County, Texas.
foxnews.com
How a once struggling deaf football team rode a historic season to a championship game
Founded 68 years ago, the Cubs, the football team of the California School for the Deaf Riverside, had never reached a championship game.
edition.cnn.com
Jussie Smollett Hate Crime Hoax Trial: Brothers to Testify Disgraced Actor Paid Them to Pose as His Attackers
CHICAGO (AP) — Two brothers stand at the center of the case that prosecutors will lay before jurors when the trial of Jussie Smollett begins this week.
breitbart.com
D.C. United cuts ties with Joseph Mora, Yamil Asad and several others
D.C. United begins making roster decisions after missing the MLS playoffs by one point.
washingtonpost.com
Man Enters Barn To Find 'Terrifying Amount' of Owls Staring at Him: 'Creepy'
A Reddit user's video of a minor owl invasion in his barn has gone viral on the social media site.
newsweek.com
Teen Selling PS5 Gunned Down by Armed Robber
The pair had agreed to meet up after the teenager listed his gaming console for sale online, police said.
newsweek.com
Jets still waiting for Zach Wilson progress despite big win
The Jets beat the Texans on Sunday 21-14 to notch their third victory of the season. Here are some thoughts and observations from the game.
nypost.com
Lee Elder, the first Black golfer to play at the Masters, dies at 87
edition.cnn.com
12 New Movie Theater Releases in December 2021: From 'Spider-Man 3' to 'Matrix 4'
Film buffs better get their Christmas calendars ready as there are plenty of new and exciting movies coming to theaters this December that you will not want to miss.
newsweek.com
The World Health Organization warns of very high risk posed by the Omicron variant
The newly identified strain of the coronavirus, which could be more transmissible than the previously dominant Delta variant, has global health officials worried about a possible new surge in cases.
npr.org
President Biden and Congress facing crucial tests in December
President Joe Biden is hoping to pass his Build Back Better social spending plan as a government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis loom. CBS News chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes joins "CBSN AM" from the White House with more.
cbsnews.com
How will the media cover Trump in 2024? Insiders are sounding the alarm.
A debate is underway at news organizations about how to avoid the pitfalls of 2020.
washingtonpost.com
Former ‘Bachelor’ Star Colton Underwood Grapples With His Sexuality In Trailer For Netflix Docuseries ‘Coming Out Colton’
The former Bachelor star came out as gay in April 2021.
nypost.com
Do Covid travel restrictions work?
Governments are trying to buy time with a rash of new travel restrictions as they figure out the potential impact of Omicron.
edition.cnn.com
The Youngkin playbook won’t work for Herschel Walker
A flawed and dangerous candidate cannot mimic the disarming business tycoon.
washingtonpost.com
Lakers show flashes of defensive effort needed to win, which is a good and bad sign
The Lakers put on a strong defensive performance during part of a win over the Pistons, but it's troubling the team hasn't sustained that effort.
latimes.com
Water and Renewables Are Remaking the Middle East
Practical cooperation is gradually replacing the old narrative of Israeli-Arab relations.
washingtonpost.com
Make vanilla extract at home for luxe flavor at a fraction of the cost
Make your own top-quality vanilla extract. It's easy and makes a great gift, too.
washingtonpost.com
Amazon Cyber Monday Deals: Discounts on Echo Dot, Fire TV Sticks, Tablets and More
For Cyber Monday, Amazon is running deals on many of its own electronic devices, including the Ring doorbell, the Fire TV Stick and the Echo Dot smart speaker.
newsweek.com
A Criminal Justice Reformer’s Case for Looser Gun Laws
Public defenders have found common cause with the NRA at the Supreme Court.
slate.com
The ghosts of our motel
A bell was always ringing. A tenant was always asking for something. Money was always short. How could this place be home? I didn’t realize that growing up in a motel was unusual until my senior year of high school, when all my peers were agonizing over their college entrance essays. After a dozen fruitless attempts to explain my uniqueness in 500 words, I went back to the beginning. I thought I’d cross out most of what I wrote, but I had no other ideas about how to start. “I was born in London,” I wrote. “But I grew up in California, in the desert, at a motel.” That sentence was the moment my childhood became a story instead of a haunted room in my head. A lot of writers know this moment; many of us need it. It can help us make peace with whatever monsters rampage through our memories. It can help us turn something painful into something useful. For years, the motel occupied one of those two spaces. First, something painful: a place where a bell was always ringing. A tenant was always asking for something. Money was always short. Our brown skin, Muslim faith, and immigrant status meant we didn’t fit in. And then I wrote that college entrance essay, and the motel became something useful. I thought that’s all the motel would ever be. After my parents sold it in the early 2000s, it was personal legend material, the source for a useful passel of ghosts I trotted out when people asked about my childhood. But recently, the motel became something more. My parents didn’t tell me many stories of their young lives. Probably because they were so busy surviving, it didn’t seem like they had time for stories. My father was trained as an engineer. My mother, after two years of college, got married and held secretarial and retail jobs. They ended up in the Mojave desert after an oil job my father had been counting on fell through, and a fellow Pakistani convinced my father that flipping a business would get him back on his feet. Did my dad research the business? Not really. He trusted a countryman. When I tell this story, I’ve had listeners suggest that my father was naïve. This is a comment that usually earns my quiet and undying enmity. I always thought of my father’s decision as brave. He needed a path to move to America for opportunities that were scarce elsewhere. The motel provided it. A few months later, my mother arrived from Pakistan with her three kids and found herself driving through the barren wasteland of the Mojave, unaware that it would be the backdrop for her children’s entire childhoods and 20 years of her own life. The motel was in an unobtrusive grid of a town that sits just off a long and especially desolate stretch of Highway 395. It had a central building with a cinder-block wall painted cream, and two wings of rooms. It was low and flat and brown. The wings had six rooms and a parking space in front of each. The dust that blew in from the desert was a constant companion. On windy nights, the air tasted of creosote. My parents never shied away from hard work, but the motel was exhausting. My father became a jack-of-all-trades, building huge signs, repairing the roof, running sprinkler lines and new electrical wiring. Both my parents dealt with a never-ending churn of cleaning rooms, doing laundry, changing bulbs, fixing broken ACs and TVs. Not to mention raising three children with no family to help and no money to pay for child care. My parents didn’t rest or vacation or go to a book club or the gym. They worked themselves to the bone through the 100 degree summers and the bitingly windy winters. In the beginning, they were hopeful. But little incidents took their toll. My father hired a couple of journeyman carpenters to help with a building project. They stole all his tools. My mom rented a room to a woman with a baby who didn’t have enough money. She and her boyfriend stole all the furniture out of the room. My father came to America with an almost deep belief in the goodness of people. But the motel taught him — and all of us — better. The town itself is isolated. At night, the lights sparkle like stars, and it seems bigger and more promising than in the daytime. You can guess the name of the town if you really want to, but I try not to use it too much. Partly to protect the privacy of the people who live there now, people whose story intersects briefly with my own. And partly because for me, the name is laden with frustration, sadness, and, above all, loss. Loss of family. Loss of health. Loss of years. For my parents, the town — and specifically the motel — was a type of purgatory. Until then, they had lived in huge metropolises, in Manchester and London and Benghazi and Lahore. In Pakistan, they had the embrace of their families: sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles. Even when they left for Europe and Africa, they were always able to find a community. A sense of home. But what was home to my parents in the desert with no other Pakistanis and few other immigrants? Was it the family they’d left behind? Was it the cities where their children were born? The communities and bonds they’d formed in places they were considered outcasts and unwelcome? Or was it the place they came to? The home they made at a dusty motel in the middle of a desert? The friends they found amid the vast emptiness, those who said “you are welcome here” even amid the people who said “you are not”? Perhaps it is their children. Their grandchildren. But more than all of that, I think home for my parents is something ineffable. Home is the past. Not a where, but a when. A when that I will never know or understand and that they will never get back. For myself, home has always been people, not a place. I call my hometown a hometown, but it never felt like one, other than within the walls of the motel where I lived with my parents and brothers. That was the place where my name was said correctly, my spirituality was a boon instead of something to condemn, and my skin color was reflected instead of rejected. It was also a place of adventure. Endless games of hide-and-seek. Roller-skating on cracked parking lots. Hiding from the ghosts in the shed. Late-night cops and robbers with neighborhood kids. “Be on my team,” one of them once said to me. “You’re harder to see in the dark.” Courtesy of Sabaa Tahir The author at age 6. Some things made the desert feel like home when I lived there. But I also let the town warp my brain. It’s an old story for so many immigrant kids. In the ’80s, when my family moved to America, many people in small towns hadn’t met an immigrant before. We were otherized because we looked and sounded and acted different. I thought I was ugly because people told me I was. My name was mispronounced my entire childhood, and after a few failed attempts to correct it, I stopped trying. I thought I was stupid, careless, and spoke poor English because my very first teachers, for kindergarten and first grade, told me that. I and my family were harassed, profiled, attacked. I wish this type of stuff didn’t stick, but it does. Long into my 20s, I devalued myself, my experiences, my culture, my beauty. This isn’t to say that everyone in the town was bad. I had friends. Adults I trusted. Teachers who mentored me. Their kindness meant all the more against the backdrop of not belonging. But it wasn’t enough to make the ubiquitous demands to “go back to where you came from” fade from my mind. When I left at 17 for university, I felt like I could breathe. I could acknowledge how lucky I was to have parents who wanted me to get out — who helped me find ways to do so via college, scholarships, and the FAFSA form. But I could see how bad things had been. After leaving, I resolved that the motel would be nothing more than a story. That’s all it deserved to be. In my late 20s, I had my children. As they grew older, they began asking me about when I was little, as I had with my own parents. The motel featured heavily in my stories: the haunted shed behind the north wing of rooms. Climbing to the roof with my brother — their uncle — during hide-and-seek. Riding bikes in the desert. But the motel was, of course, more than that. It was also the alcoholic tenants who’d piss in our bushes, the guest who’d scream racial epithets at the TV, the abuser who threatened my mom if she didn’t tell him what room his terrified ex was in. I don’t share those stories with my kids, so they’ve lurked in my head, misting into spirits, walking with me through relationships and friendships and therapy sessions and the books I write. Unpleasant at times. Scary. But still, just stories. Then, at the beginning of this year, my family took a road trip. We hadn’t gone anywhere for a while because of Covid, but with three members of the family vaccinated, we figured it was time to get out. We were driving south through California, and I mulled over whether I should show my kids where I grew up. Part of me wanted them to retain the image of the motel I’d given them: a periwinkle blue pool, beautiful sunsets, interesting and strange people. Not a tired building on a dusty street where you could crunch the dirt between your teeth. Even as we approached the turnoff to Highway 14 that would take us past my hometown, I began to waffle. I didn’t want to go. I really wanted to go. I couldn’t go! I had to. “Just forget it,” I blurted out. “Let’s head to LA,” which was our next stop. Fortunately, my husband was driving for that leg of the trip. “I think we should go,” he said, glancing over at me, eyebrows raised, well-attuned to my indecisiveness. “I think you need to see it.” “Nah, I’m okay,” I said, wishing quietly that I could get out of my own damn way and admit that I wanted to see my old home. That it was okay to want to see it. “It will take too long.” “We’re going,” my husband said, and took the turnoff. Strangely, in the back seat, my kids cheered. I didn’t think they cared one way or another. But I guess they were curious about this place they’d heard stories of. As it turns out, so was I. As an adult, I’ve had friends tell me I’m observant. But I must not have been as a kid because I had no idea I lived in an isolated town until college, when I casually mentioned to a friend that I hadn’t been to a real mall until I was 13. “Where was this mall you went to?” she asked. “Palmdale,” I told her. “Civilization!” She laughed. “Palmdale is the edge of the world, Sabaa.” I remember thinking that if she thought Palmdale was the edge of the world, what would she make of the motel? Now, as my family and I traversed the desert on a cool spring afternoon, as I watched my kids’ eyes glaze over at the endlessly flat land, broken only by tumbleweeds and the occasional distant hillock, I started to understand why that old friend thought the desert was the back of the beyond. I hadn’t been back to the area in years. I’d thought I’d never go back. But as we drove, I felt a weird sense of relief. Familiarity. In relegating my childhood to stories, it lost its sense of reality. But here it was, in browns and taupes and mauves and olives, staring me in the face. This is what I’d survived. It was not just a story. It was my reality. As we neared the town, down a long road that leads off Highway 14 and into the city limits, my husband told my kids all about the community’s origins. He knew enough that I realized he must have read up on it at some point because even I didn’t know some of the facts he was sharing. My kids stared and exclaimed and tried to find something interesting in the relatively unimpressive surroundings. “Ooh, a junkyard of old cars,” my older child observed valiantly. I, meanwhile, found myself getting quieter. I thought I’d forgotten the streets, but I hadn’t. I realized I was almost the same age as my father was when he moved to the town in the early ’80s. For the first time, I saw it as my parents must have seen it: a strange and distant outpost. How they must have loved us to try to make a life there, to have not given up. When we got into the town, I thought we’d do a quick drive-by of the motel where I grew up, just to show the kids the big palm trees in the front and the broad stretch of sand across the street, where my brother would try to catch lizards. But my husband, who could befriend a boulder, stopped in front of the motel and got out. Before I really understood what was happening, he’d walked up to the old center apartment and told the new owners his wife used to live there. A minute or so later, he waved me over, and they ushered us into their home. My old home. Suddenly, I was inside the place where I grew up, in front of a South Asian family that looked like mine. Again, I couldn’t speak. I was tallying all the things that had changed. A wood floor instead of the ragged, brown-black carpet where my brother and I had had Lego pirate wars. Tall, pale curtains on the picture window instead of the pilled yellow ones where I’d skulk during hide-and-seek. The big, dark beams above were the same. As was the fireplace with the closet behind it. I tried to look inside to see what the new owners kept in there. For us, it was towels and soaps and TP — the most requested items. The place felt small. The new owners were a big family. Grandparents, grandchildren, and the two couples who ran the place. I knew they shared a small kitchen with a butcher-block counter. A half bath and a longer, narrower one with a stall shower. A dining room with cedar-paneled walls from the ’60s. Two bedrooms. Outside, the lawn had been paved over. There used to be three trees out front. The pool in the back was empty and fenced off, the chain-link listing down toward it, pulled by its black hole gravity, maybe, or a jinn. My husband asked how the business was doing, how the family liked the town, and chatted again about how I used to live there with my parents and brothers. “What do you do now?” they asked me. How do you say, “This place you live, where your kids live, put ghosts in my head, and I write to shut them up”? You don’t. My husband told them a bit about his own work, and I looked at the faces of their kids, these little beautiful brown children. I hoped that things would be better for them in this town than they were for me and my brothers. I hoped they’d come home from college and be happy and not feel what I felt at the time: the intense desire to stay, to live the reality I was most familiar and comfortable with, combined with the desperate urge to leave because I couldn’t get sucked into that dead space again. We didn’t stay long. After we drove off, I showed my kids my high school as well as the house my family lived in briefly when I was in my teens — beautiful and ghost-free. As the sun was setting, we parked on the side of the road to watch the sky over the Sierra Nevada turn gold, then pink, then a deep, unforgettable violet. The sky was dusty because the wind had kicked up. I knew that wind so well that it was like an old friend. I could practically hear it asking where I had been, why I hadn’t come back. The kids, who haven’t met many winds, threw sand in the air and watched as it spun into oblivion. The sun set. There are more stars in my hometown than anywhere else I’ve lived. I drank them in and the taste of dust at night. As we left, I opened the window and whispered a word. “Home.” I said it a few times, trying it out, to see how it felt. “Home.” Yes. That is what this town was. Not just a story or a source of pain, but home. One I could appreciate now for what it gave me. A desire to belong, which made me seek out stories. A need to contemplate, which lets me sit for months with a character. A passion for work, taught by my parents, which allowed me to survive college, then journalism, then publishing. A love of rain and mountains and the joyful howls of the Santa Ana winds. A “when” that I can come back to if I ever need to remember who I am. Sabaa Tahir is the New York Times bestselling author of the An Ember in the Ashes YA series, which has been translated into more than 35 languages. Her new novel, All My Rage, is partially inspired by her childhood in the desert, and will be published in March 2022 by Razorbill.
vox.com
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Jack Dorsey Is Stepping Down as Twitter’s Chief Executive
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time.com
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