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A love letter to Squirrel Hill

I loved Pittsburgh from the moment I stepped out of my parents’ mini-van for a tour of Pitt 13 years ago. The sun shone bright and high in the sky, and the Cathedral of Learning (still covered in soot back then), reached up to it as if in prayer. It felt like home already, though I’d only just arrived.

When I graduated four years later, the decision to stay was easy. By then I’d learned how precious those few sunny days were, how inadequate and frustrating the public transit was, how the neighborhoods were divided—segregated, essentially—by race. I stayed because, despite the negatives, despite the downsides, it still felt like home. I was young and thought, too, that maybe I could make things better. Not just in Pittsburgh, but the world.

I’ve never lived in Squirrel Hill, but I did and still do spend a lot of time there. As a student I spent countless Friday nights at the now-closed Barnes & Noble, spending what little money I had on books and more books. I wrote endless pages of terrible novels at the 61C Cafe, smoking clove cigarettes on the patio and watching the bright sunflowers nod in the breeze. And on late nights, studying or just escaping from the pain of a bad breakup or another rejection, I sat with my friends in Eat ‘n’ Park, drinking stale coffee and eating pie that tasted like cardboard, but the taste wasn’t the point anyway.

My favorite tea shop is in Squirrel Hill (Margaret’s), my favorite diner (Pamela’s—specifically the Squirrel Hill one), the best gaming store (Games Unlimited). I always find something delightful at The Exchange (the Star Wars soundtrack on 8 track, for example). My friends live there, and when out-of-town friends visit we meet up at 61C or Common Place. I spent two and a half years at Chatham, heading to the Squirrel Cage with friends after class for a stiff drink and literary dreaming.

In my boring adult life, I spend one Sunday a month in Squill (as we affectionately call it) pretending to be an X-Man with my nerd friends. We usually go out for a post-gaming dinner at Cafe 33, which is arguably the best Asian restaurant in the whole damn city. The Barnes & Noble is gone, but we have two indies in its place: Classic Lines and Amazing Books. 61C is still one of my go-to writer hangouts, especially in summer. I don’t visit Eat ‘n’ Park as much, but it’s tradition to kick off NaNoWriMo there at midnight on November 1 every year, and I plan to be there tonight.

D.J. and I often head to Pamela’s for a weekend brunch after a run. When we miss the North Side’s Friday farmer’s market, we stop by the Squirrel Hill market on Sunday for our local produce. I go out of my way to use the Post Office there, because the clerks are always smiling.

In short, I love Squirrel Hill.

On Saturday, a racist Nazi murderer walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue and massacred 11 people gathered for worship and community. The signs were there—after all, we elected a blatantly racist president who called literal Nazis “some fine people,” and just last year another racist Nazi spread anti-Semitic flyers all over the neighborhood.

My heart is broken, and it cracks anew every time I open the news or social media and see the world over talking about what happened here. I want the world to know and love the Squirrel Hill I know. The multicultural neighborhood full of love and such a vibrant community. I didn’t directly know anyone involved in the shooting. But I know people who do. They are my friends, they are my neighbors. They are my community. Every act of horrific mass violence like this cuts me to the quick, but this one hurts more because Pittsburgh is my home.

I’m a white woman. I’m almost always “safe.” And if I feel as if the world is stuttering to a stand still a thousand times a day, I cannot imagine the pain and grief my Jewish friends and the local and global Jewish community is going through. And what’s more, this was not the only shooting this weekend. This was not the only recent Pittsburgh tragedy. This the way things are, but this is not the way things have to be. It starts with me. It starts with you.

Together, we are stronger than hate. Love alone is not enough. We must stand whenever and wherever injustice strikes in this city we call home, whether against our Jewish neighbors, our Black neighbors, our immigrant neighbors, our refugee neighbors.

Stand for Antwon Rose.

Stand for Irving Younger.

Stand for Melvin Wax.

Stand for Bernice and Sylvan Simon.

Stand for Jerry Rabinowitz.

Stand for Joyce Feinberg.

Stand for Richard Gottfried.

Stand for Daniel Stein.

Stand for Cecil and David Rosenthal.

Stand.

Miss Migraine: A summer retrospective

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 20, 2012. 

In many ways, this has been a terrible summer. The weather was awful, my best friend in the entire world is going through some awful shit, my mom and one of her friends got into a motorcycle accident (my mom’s okay, her friend is still in the hospital with major injuries), my husband’s migraines increased from infrequent to multiple times per week, and the severity of mine have been steadily increasing.

I’ve been traveling constantly: Vietnam in the beginning of May; Maine at the end of June; Florida this week; plus three trips to visit my in-laws in Northeastern PA, five hours away from Pittsburgh; and two trips to visit my best friend and my parents in Southeastern PA, also five hours away. I’ve loved every single one of these trips, but I’m tired, worn out.

Simpsons Itchy and Scratchy Wheel of Pain

Photo by Flickr user jennifromtheblock, used under Creative Commons license.

Over the weekend, I had the worst migraine of my life. I felt like I was dying, like my right eye was slowing pushing its way out of my head. Thankfully, I had felt it coming on and taken a Maxalt, which knocked the pain down to a bearable level. I had to take another one later in the day, but at least I avoided a trip to the ER (which I was sure was going to be necessary).

Saturday, with the postdrome euphoria I sometimes get, I was able to begin preparing for my trip to Florida. But on Sunday, another bad migraine hit me and I was stuck on the couch with an ice pack to my head most of the day, having exhausted the week’s limit of abortives.

It’s easy to feel depressed. How am I going to make it through my trip this week? How am I going to make it through the semester, when classes start next week and I’ve been spending so much time on the couch? How can I do anything when I feel this way?

But in many ways, this has been a wonderful summer. I got to go to Vietnam. I climbed a mountain with my husband, and a few shorter ones with him and the dogs in Acadia National Park in Maine. I’m going to Florida for a Star Wars convention, which is just about my most favorite thing, ever. I got to spend so much time with both of my families and some of my closest friends.

Remembering these things doesn’t make the pain any less real, any less present in my life, but it does make it less significant. So the severity has been increasing. That only means I still have work to do in order to get where I want to be — like with any other goal in life. And I’m good at working toward my goals.

Miss Migraine: If you visit the Brandywine River Museum

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 15, 2012.

If you plan a trip to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, and you suffer from chronic migraines, do not eat a red velvet cupcake with butter cream icing for breakfast, even if your best friend bought it for you from the Bakers at Buffington in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, even though you love your friend and red velvet is  your favorite cake.

Especially do not eat a red velvet cupcake for breakfast with 16 ounces of Ethiopian blend coffee cut with just enough half and half to turn it from a pleasant brown-black to a pleasant dark tan, even if the coffee is from Wawa and your devotion to your favorite convenience store — which is unavailable in the place you currently live — is fierce and strongly nostalgic.

Brandywine River Museum

Photo credit: Brandywine River Museum

When, upon approaching a red light and flicking on your left turn signal, a flare goes off in the left side of your head, do take a Maxalt pill, even if it means taking it with coffee. The flare, though brief, is a warning sign of things to come, and you should know better.

At the museum, which is filled with the works of famous local artists, specifically those of the Wyeth family, avoid the 40-something man dressed in the carefully styled careless way of art history professors who leads a group of other men, dressed less carefully and more casually, though the exhibit of paintings and sketches done by famous local artists on their vacations in places like Delaware, Maine, Italy, Germany, and Holland, while he explicates loudly on each painting’s deeper meaning.

When, upon nearing the end of this gallery, another flare goes off in the left side of your head, do take a Maxalt pill, as you’ve been smart enough to put one in your wallet although you’ve left your purse in the car, because you don’t want to carry it. The water fountain is located right beyond the gallery you’ve just existed, past the bronze sculptures of three happy pigs in a wallow and a naked woman braiding her hair, and you should know better than to wait.

If it suddenly seems that the security guard has started to follow you and your friend, you may assume that he is doing so because the two of you are the youngest patrons by at least two decades, and your friend is the only person of color. Other possible explanations include multiple middle-aged white male security guards with salt and pepper hair and graying goatees, each wearing his uniform shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearm. This will not directly affect the pain growing in your head, but it will greatly annoy you, as you would like to contemplate Andrew Wyeth‘s painting of a skull by a window without feeling the scrutiny of someone who might assume you either have to be here for a school assignment (you don’t) or will show bad manners and try to touch the paintings (you would never).

Because you did not take the Maxalt pill when you should have, your vision will blur in the middle of the N.C. Wyeth gallery. By the time you leave the museum, driving will be a chore. You will slow down at green lights and forget to start again when you stop at stop signs. You will take a second Maxalt pill two hours after the first one, and you will lay down with your dog for awhile, but it will not lessen the pain or the vague feelings of nausea. You will be forced to cancel plans with your other best friend whom you see only rarely, because you know that driving at night is unsafe when your eyes make it appear that shadows have substance and are jumping out at you.

But you will continue thinking about Andrew Wyeth’s painting of the skull by the window, how it faces away from the window, almost as if it has turned from the beautiful view beyond because it was too painful, because it was unreachable.

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