Friday, October 18, 2019

Books might be a bargain for the hours of stimulation they give you. But they’re not cheap. Except at the library.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

I have spent too much time on the computer since my shoulder injury made it hard to hold a book without pain. I’m going to get back to reading a few books I started but put down because they hurt my left bicep when I’d turn my left hand out like you do with a book in your hands. Reading a book is richer than flitting around the computer. I’ve learned that these weeks. Way too much time on the screen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

This was at the encampment of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. That’s gone of course. But this coming Saturday’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez evokes some of that spirit. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A teacherish-preacherish-looking guy in a crew-neck sweater and a reddish beard came by my sign this morning and went off on the school system. You can rant in cities more easily than in small towns. The thrum of traffic and ambient city noise lets you make your own noise without standing out like a lone streaker at a suburban high school football game. He stared at me while he went off. But he was speaking to the cosmos. He was there in front of me for maybe 90 seconds but that was time enough for him to make his points. I nodded in agreement on a couple points. But I did as I’ve learned to do with guys like him, I pointed at my sign.

Monday, October 14, 2019

It’s what you’d tell anyone you care about. It’s how a school system should send off its seniors. It’s what a parent should say. What a teacher should say.  Everyone should make sure their children and their students can read well.
The daily paper should monitor that. It doesn’t though. Alec Baldwin gets more ink. Deborah Harry still does. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

I saw this in the Jefferson Market Library a few years ago. I loved it. Thought it was cool that they made it, or used it even if they hadn’t put the message and the photo of Dylan together. This was before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Maybe the photo is from his days in the Village. Maybe it was taken right there in that library. It’s a wonderful library. The only neighborhood branch I know that opens on Sunday. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Some people on Chambers Street asked where I’d been. It was good to see them. I just wasn’t there last week. They didn’t know I’d ever be back. Life is that way. People I used to see on that sidewalk every day, some of them I’ve never seen again. Did they take a new job, get fired, get divorced, get sick? Did they move back to Detroit?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

I framed, with no glass, the first issue. I put out 61 issues. I plan to soon begin doing new ones. One a month I hope. I’ve been marking time waiting for the 62nd idea to come. I may re-fashion an older issue that I think is relevant now. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Back from Wyoming. Great time there as always, But necessary to be back to my routines here. I’ll hold the sign again Monday. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The best thing in Jackson is its library. It’s the best place that has books in it I’ve ever been in. The atmosphere, the light, the selections, the displays, the art they showcase, the care they take with books, the view out the window, the generous hours, the kids section. I come here every day. It’s where I am now. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Have you really read all those books in your room?”

Alaska laughing- “Oh God no. I’ve maybe read a third of ‘em. But I’m going to read them all. I call it my Life’s Library. Every summer since I was little, I’ve gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read.” 
                      ― John Green, Looking for Alaska

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

TWO PEOPLE TOOK PICTURES of the sign today. One guy from his car. People were honking behind him to get him moving.

I’m there every weekday on Chambers Street with the sign. People who pass me for the first time often don’t know what it is, or if it’s just a one-day thing. After days or weeks of seeing me on their way to work or school, they warm to it. They smile. They like the sign’s message. They like that some guy would stand there with it every day. What seemed an odd message to them at first comes to seem natural. Of course, some people say.

Monday, September 23, 2019

My shoulder still hurts. Hurts even more from doing the rigorous at-home exercises the physical therapist gives me to do. So I mostly hold the sign with one hand which is its own strain. But I can’t stay home. The sign wants to be seen.

Some guy hollered out his car window today, It’s the damn commies.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

On my way just out of my apartment yesterday as I was going to the subway station to get to the Climate Strike rally I heard some students somewhere up ahead of me chanting about global warming. As I got closer it was a block-long group of kids with signs and exuberance heading where I was headed. My eyes watered a little from the sound of their voices as they marched toward a gathering with other kids.

The train we all took was the one I had taken some hours before with my sign. We got off where I got off earlier. Not many days do I get to go to two things that matter so.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Beautiful day on Chambers Street. Later students from the public schools will go to Foley Square for a rally to insist more be done fast to halt climate change. Greta will be there or will be present at the end of the rally. I’m going down to Foley Square at noon when it starts. My photo lens wants to see it. 

While I hold the sign, people going by sometimes make comments. Today a hard-ass from a pickup truck hollered, It’s the damn Democrats. A guy my age went by and said,  Yeah reading, AND CURSIVE. That’s a major concern to some older people. I don’t get it.

A young woman who works for the department of education stops and talks sometimes. She stopped today. She is part of a team that works with homeless kids in the city’s school system. There are 100,000 homeless kids in the system. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019  
Even though I've held my sign with one hand every day, my sore operated-0n shoulder has kept me from posting much lately. It's also hurt too much to hold a book open to read much. Just last week I went to the bookstore for the first time in weeks. People tell me I should have a Kindle. Probably but I don't. I smoked for 50 years and never used a lighter. I don't have a TV but I can watch things online. I hardly do though. I bought five books the other day and I'm reading two of them. Samantha Power's new memoir, The Education of an Idealist, and Sean Wilentz's book, Bob Dylan in America, in paperback.

Monday, September 9, 2019

I continually get passers-by who are teachers. They most emphatically of all give a thumbs-up to the sign and say how students' poor reading skills affect their classrooms and the kids' opportunities to learn things they need.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

'I don’t think it would have all got me quite so down if just once in a while—just once in a while—there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time! But there never is! You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word 'wisdom' mentioned!' 
― J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

'No skill is more crucial to the future of a child than literacy.'
― Los Angeles Times

Thursday, August 29, 2019

'It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale.'
― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The lean white-haired woman (think Jimmy Carter's motherpassed my sign coming from behind me this morning but she must have seen it head-on before because she raised her slender arm with a thumb up over her head as she was just past me and hollered 'You go'.
I don't know what to say back to such people. I usually just raise the sign toward them. It says it best. It reinforces what she liked enough to commend as she walked by today.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

IT'S LATE-AUGUST QUIET these days along Chambers Street where I hold my sign on weekday mornings. I think the message could change the world so I go there with it no matter. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019
If the schools in the city really went to the mat for the kids, especially about reading, they'd pressure the city to have neighborhood library hours equal to the suburban libraries which are open till 9:00 every night and are open Sundays. Here the libraries close at 6:00 or 7:00 and are not open on Sunday. If that sounds untrue to you, it isn't. I know it seems impossible that New York City would have such meager hours.

Monday, August 19, 2019

When Jonathan Kozol wrote 'Illiterate America' in 1985, he said 60 million adults or about 1/3 of the adult population were seriously illiterate. They couldn't read or couldn't read well enough to function as fully-participating citizens of our democracy. I'm aware of that from holding my sign. Many people stare at it as though it were in some other language. Some who can just make out what it says, let me know they can read it by saying Absolutely or Ain't That the Truth as though they could read easily. One bright-looking woman who I tutored in an adult literacy class a few years ago told me she had headaches when she got home from work from staring so hard at the pages of a book on the subway to make it look like she was reading it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

'More money is put into prisons than into schools. That, in itself, is the description of a nation bent on suicide. I mean, what is more precious to us than our own children? We are going to build a lot more prisons if we do not deal with the schools and their inequalities.'
                                   --Jonathan Kozol 

Thursday, August 15, 2019


‘I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’
                            —Toni Morrison

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

'This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.'
     --Bob Dylan
This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.
This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.

Monday, August 12, 2019

'There's only one day at a time here, then it's tonight and then tomorrow will be today again.'
Bob Dylan,
Chronicles: Volume One

Friday, August 9, 2019
'The ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in, becoming narcissistic.'
Rod Serling 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

I've told myself I should just point at the sign when people ask me what I'm there for. They only stop for a minute. There's no time to say anything really that will satisfy them. People are competitive. They stop to win. They want to best me and the sign with their own take on things. Most people don't stop. The sign's message is clear. Most people smile with their eyes when they read it. Some people who pass the sign every day, smile every day. Some cars that go by beep every day. Peace sign or thumb-up thrust out the window.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

From a New York Magazine conversation with Fran Lebowitz. Here she talks about her friendship with Toni Morrison:

She’s one of my best friends, and she is the only wise person I’ve ever known. I know lots of very smart people, but I only know one wise person,” she said. She and Toni talk on the phone every day. “She’s very important to me because there are very few people’s advice I’m interested in,” Fran said. “I’ve not always taken Toni’s advice, but I’m always interested. Toni is so unlike me. When I was young, my mother used to say, ‘Can’t you be the bigger person?’ And I would say no. I am by nature the smaller person, but the bigger person is Toni.”

“Toni’s the biggest person I’ve ever known, by far. She has the greatest generosity of anyone I’ve ever known. So it’s not only her intelligence, which is extreme… I truthfully know other people as smart as Toni, but I do not know anyone who is so large in generosity. And her talent is fantastic, but I know other very talented people. She is unique. I feel like I’ve met a zillion people, so I don’t think she’s unique in my life — she is unique on the planet.”

Tuesday, July 30, 2019
'You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.' 
        -- Gandhi 

Monday, July 29, 2019
Was it the oxycodone I'd been taking every four hours for four days? Was it because it was the first day back out on the street with the sign? Was it too sunny and maybe I hadn't had enough water? I felt weak after 45 minutes. I was talking to a man who'd stopped to tell me about his worries about his first-grade daughter who seemed to be slow at everything. He was a Latino laborer with his hair in a bandana. He spoke with an accent. It wasn't easy for him to be telling a stranger this. I felt bad that I had to stop our conversation. I wasn't worried that I'd pass out, but I was staring at the ground and was feeling weak, the sun beating down on my shoulders in a dark blue shirt. I'll go back tomorrow.

Monday, July 22, 2019

When I knew my shoulder was busted up, I first thought of the days I'd miss with my sign. Both meanings of miss. Tomorrow surgery then a few days to recover I guess. Monday I hope I'll be back on Chambers Street. Sign does no good in my apartment. Neither do I.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

I went downtown with the sign this morning. Rain was maybe coming. The subway wasn't crowded. I said good morning to the three Jehovah's Witness women I see every day when I get off the train. They wanted to know the latest on my shoulder. They said it was going to rain. 

After 30 minutes big drops started to come down. I headed back to the subway quickly. I didn't want my shirt to get real wet. I didn't want to have to take off the sling and a heavy wet shirt when I got home.

The Mt. Sinai dermatologist I saw yesterday about the nickel rash on my hands from the iPhone, which is a concern because the new shoulder would contain some nickel, said her three-part, four-day test couldn't be done until September. I called my surgeon and left that message. We'll see what develops. Oy.

Monday, July 15, 2019

I've held the sign with one hand since I injured my shoulder big-time. I'm having surgery tomorrow morning. I'll get back to it soon.

Friday, July 12, 2019

I Found My American Dream at the Public Library

Daniela Petrova's Love Letter to the Library

In his op-ed for Forbes last year, Panos Mourdoukoutas, a professor of economics at LIU Post in New York, suggested that Amazon stores should replace libraries to save taxpayers money. Following the backlash this preposterous suggestion created, Forbes took the article down. But the outpouring of love for libraries in response to the piece was priceless, reconfirming the intrinsic role of libraries in the fabric of American communities.

Libraries were instrumental to my experience as an immigrant and I rejoiced watching social media explode with messages in defense of the local library as a cornerstone of our democracy.
One of the hardest aspects in the life of an immigrant is not fully belonging anywhere. One foot stays firmly rooted in your country of origin no matter how hard you plant the other one in the host country. Even though I’ve lived in the United States for 24 years, the first thing people ask upon meeting me, courtesy of my accent, is “Where are you from?” And when I go back to Bulgaria, everyone calls me The American. But there is one place where I always feel at home—the library. Any library. Anywhere in the world. The familiar smell of books, the shelves packed with old and new tomes, the friendly staff eager to help.

I. Local libraries provide a refuge and a community
I grew up in Bulgaria during the Communist years and when, in the spring of 1995, I arrived in New York at the age of 22, barely speaking any English, the culture shock nearly knocked me off my feet: there were the skyscrapers (the tallest building I’d seen was 24 floors); the cars (my family didn’t own a car and for the first year in New York, I considered it the greatest luxury to take a ride outside the city even if for only 30 minutes); the grocery aisles stuffed with all types of food, ten different brands for each item (in the years before I’d immigrated, we’d had a shortage of basic goods, like milk, and the government had issued a restriction on the number of bottles one could purchase). I didn’t know what a credit card was, nor a check. I didn’t understand the concept of health insurance. I’d never touched a computer. I’d never eaten a burger, a doughnut, a bagel.

Feeling lonely and isolated, I found refuge in the Yorkville branch of the New York Public Library. It was the only familiar place in this foreign land.
I didn’t know a soul except for my husband. He was the superintendent of a luxury building on the Upper East Side where we had a tiny apartment on the ground floor. Our neighbors rode in limousines and if they ever encountered me in the lobby, they averted their gazes without so much as a nod in greeting. My job as a cleaning lady didn’t exactly help in meeting people either. This was long before cell phones and social media. While many people in America had computers and some had AOL emails, I didn’t even know what an email was. The letters I wrote to my friends and family in Bulgaria took two weeks to travel in each direction.

Feeling lonely and isolated, I found refuge in the Yorkville branch of the New York Public Library. It was the only familiar place in this foreign land. Here, among the shelves of books, even if I didn’t speak to people, I felt comfortable. Like I belonged. We were a community of readers, regardless of our maiden tongues, our religion, our age or the color of our skin. The Yorkville library was not that different from the one where I’d checked out my first books as a kid in Sofia. All you needed was a library card, and you could read as many books as you wanted.

II. Libraries are free
Because libraries are free no one is excluded from their services. Children, people with disabilities, the elderly, the poor, the rich, everyone can join. In those early years in America, when I bought my clothes in thrift stores and furnished my apartment with the chairs and carpets my wealthy neighbors discarded, my local library was the only place where I didn’t feel poor, foreign, lesser. As librarian Amanda Oliver pointed out in her Twitter response to the Forbes op-ed, the library is “one of few places in our society where the underserved can be treated with dignity and respect.”
Public libraries erase privilege, providing access to information to those who cannot afford to purchase their own books, computers, WiFi. I learned a lot of my English by checking out novels I had previously read in Bulgarian—War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Martin Eden—poring over the familiar stories, figuring out the meaning of the words as I went along.

III. Libraries can empower the disenfranchised
Libraries provide free access to information and that includes not only books and magazines, but also computers, WiFi, films, research databases, and invaluable human guidance. I learned how to write a resume by consulting different guides before sitting down at the automatic typewriter I had at home and typing it up using just two fingers. Following that experience, I checked out a book on how to type and started practicing.

While access to information is very important it is not enough. You need to know what to search for and where to search for it.

I’d dropped out of the architecture and civil engineering university I was attending in Sofia in my third year to come to New York, naively thinking that I would continue my education in America. It didn’t take me long to realize how out of reach my goal was. I had difficulties finding a job as a cleaning lady; saving enough money for college was out of the question. My break came when I told one of my clients about my background in architecture. He’d recently made a donation to the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and asked the head of the Periodicals Department if they could use someone with a background in architecture who spoke Bulgarian and Russian. A couple of weeks later, I was accepted as a volunteer; and soon thereafter, I was offered a part-time job.

The Watson Library became my home, the staff my family. I learned to use a computer there, taking staff education classes in MS Word and Excel. I learned to make small talk. I made friends. My vocabulary expanded. I was using words like “acquisitions” and “deaccession” on an everyday basis. A couple of years later, the head of the cataloguing department, where I was assisting at the time and who knew I was eager to go back to school, sat me down at a computer with Internet access. She pulled up Columbia University’s website and explained that if I worked for the university, I’d be eligible to take two classes per semester for free. She also showed me where to search for employment opportunities. Thanks to her, I applied and got a full-time job at the Butler Library. Soon after, I was accepted into the General Studies program of the university from where I graduated with honors, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

I would have never known about any of these opportunities without the help of so many people who steered me in the right direction. Local librarians know the needs of their patrons and can guide them to the information that might be most helpful in their specific situation and where to look for it.
The libraries in New York provided me with community—both as a patron and an employee—engendering a sense of belonging at a time at when I knew close to no one in the country and felt foreign nearly 24 hours a day. Libraries are the cornerstones of democracy, where all people—regardless of income, race and religion—are welcome. To me, they’re also the one place where I truly feel at home.

Her Mother’s Daughter, by Daniela Petrova, is available from G.P. Putnam.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

'It is important for upcoming activists to study American history, as well as political and philosophical thought. It is unlikely that what you hope to accomplish is new. Current activism is almost always linked to the history of revolution worldwide, and Americans have a special connection to this legacy because our nation was born out of the struggle against tyranny.'
                                                    ― John Lewis

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

From an interview with Toni Morrison in Granta, a British literary quarterly:

Listening to you reading your stories underscores the orality and musicality of your storytelling. Do you intend your writing to be read out loud?
I intend the reader to hear it. I come from a house in which they did that all the time. I remember the story about my grandfather, about whom it was always said – with pride – that he had read the Bible from cover to cover. Five times. I knew at some point that it was illegal for black people to read. And it was illegal for white people to teach them to read. You could go to jail or be fined.
My grandfather didn’t go to school. He went one day, and that was to tell the teacher he wouldn’t be back. He would rely on his sister to teach him to read. They called him Big Papa. And I was thinking, much later: What else could he read? There were no books, no libraries. There was just the Bible. But at the same time, it was an act of taking power back.

Monday, July 8, 2019 
With my hurt left shoulder in need of surgery, I've had to adjust. I've had to peel an orange with my right hand. The biggest concern I've had is what about the sign? Will I be able to hold it? It wants to be seen. I went twice last week with it and held it with one hand, sometimes resting it against my legs. It rained today but I'll go out with it till I have to have my surgery next week. Like I say, it wants to be seen.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Everyone’s talking about the death and disappearance of the book as a format and an object. I don’t think that will happen. I think whatever happens, we have to figure out a way to protect our imaginations. Stories and poetry do that. You need a language in this world. People want words, they want to hear their situation in language, and find a way to talk about it. It allows you to find a language to talk about your own pain.

If you give kids a language, they can use it. I think that’s what these educators fear. If you really educate these kids, they aren’t going to punch you in the face, they are going to challenge you with your own language.’
                                              --Jeanette Winterson

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

For years, I declined to fill in the form for my Senate press credential that asked me to state my 'race,' unless I was permitted to put 'human.' The form had to be completed under penalty of perjury, so I could not in conscience put 'white,' which is not even a color let alone a 'race,' and I sternly declined to put 'Caucasian,' which is an exploded term from a discredited ethnology. Surely the essential and unarguable core of King's campaign was the insistence that pigmentation was a false measure: a false measure of mankind (yes, mankind) and an inheritance from a time of great ignorance and stupidity and cruelty, when one drop of blood could make you 'black.'
                              ― Christopher Hitchens 

Monday, July 1, 2019

'As immigrant artists for whom so much has been sacrificed, so many dreams have been deferred, we already doubt so much. Who do we think we are? We think we are people who risked not existing at all. People who might have had a mother and father killed, either by a government or nature, even before we were born. Some of us think we are accidents of literacy. I do.'
                                       ―Edwidge Danticat 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I don't think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for.’
                          —Norman Mailer

Monday, June 24, 2019
The reason I obsess over the New York Public Library's paltry hours, like late morning starts, slim evening hours, and no Sunday hours, is that it shows a lack of determination on everyone's part. Something's not being done to get the library's hours up to where they should be. Even if money's the reason. And, of course, that will be the reason given. Same thing about kids and reading in the city's schools. Something's not being done.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

'This is the world as it is. This is where you start.' 
― Saul D. Alinsky

Friday, June 21, 2019

It was raining a little outside my window early this morning like the phone showed it would be. But I went downtown with my sign anyway because maybe it would stop even though the phone had blue rain coming out of little clouds all morning. There was an older Asian woman selling umbrellas out of a cart just outside where I came up from the subway. She can't speak English, but her grandchild may go to Penn or Dartmouth. I wasn't outside for five minutes, I hadn't even taken my sign out of the big plastic bag, when I gave in and headed back downstairs to the subway and home. The Asian woman held an umbrella over her head as she stood next to her cart.