Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

Candidly Reading #3: The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

“Why do you persist, then? Why do you care so very much about the fate of your organization, and so little about your own welfare, when the people you’re assisting — Jews, anti-Nazis, degenerate Negroid artists like Wifredo Lam, sexual inverts like Konstantinov — are the basest forms of human kind? Look at you. You’re a thinking man, a Christian man, educated at the best American institutions. Why are you imperiling yourself for the sake of that filth? How do you justify it?”

“Is this official business, Captain?”

“I’m asking merely from personal curiosity. Tell me why.”

“Those people are my people,” Varian said. “If I don’t help them, no one will.”

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

In an interview on CNN just the other day, Stephen Miller made the assertion that — as a Jew — he was outraged by the accusations by left-wing politicians like AOC that the detainment centers on the border were comparable to those desolate and fatal camps of the Holocaust. And yet, stories emerge every day of the lack of care given not just to children, but to men and women alike in their wait for sentencing, of freedom or — more likely — deportation.

Around the world, the issue of gay marriage and the rights that come along with its recognition is one that is still widely debated. You don’t have to dig into Google News far to find stories of brutalization of homosexual individuals, or the long-awaited and damn-near-time legalization of same-sex marriage. In Northern Ireland, it wasn’t until this past January that lesbian couples were both allowed to assert parentage on the birth certificate of their children — something that previously would have separated families upon the death of the listed mother.

And, of course, still we face racism in its most potent form in the United States, particularly with the rise of White Supremacist marches and the vibrancy of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Enter The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer, a plot placed so clearly and factually in the turn of the 1940s but with the bite of the present at the heels of the reader’s every page. Loosely based on the life of Varian Fry, an activist in Nazi-occupied France who smuggled thousands of refugees out of the annexed territory who also happened to be a discreetly practicing homosexual, the story follows his work as leader of the Emergency Rescue Committee, the lives of the team he assembles, the rescues of the refugees, and — in a progressive shift — his passionate love affair with Grant, a passing half-black academic from his college days. The scene set, Orringer is able to write parallelisms to contemporary debates on refugee acceptance, homosexuality, and race in one swift read that pulls at the heartstrings while also provoking the synapses to work at all cylinders.

While I found it a slow and prodding read, I did thoroughly enjoy The Flight Portfolio (the first of my Book of the Month Club subscription deliveries) as it prompted many thorough trips down the rabbit hole on The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Medium alike. I became actively curious not only of the past but also about our current domestic and global climate and the future that was most likely to result from our present choices. The Flight Portfolio may not have pushed into the most scandalous and heart-pounding depths of my library, but it did prove to be one of the most educating and engaging reads — a read that made me a more determined citizen.

I will say that the one disappointment at the end was the revelation in the Author’s Note that most of the characters, interactions, and plot were fictionalized for the purpose of creating a world that could prove parallel. And though I admire Orringer’s originality and ability to build from bare bones of history, I did wish that Grant was real and that he and Varian had lived their lives in coupled bliss after the four-hundred pages of will-they-won’t-they.


Of course, I am always susceptible to a love story. And so, I have to end this post with what I think has to be one of the most impressionable quotes about love — true love, regardless of its form — that I have ever come across. I would save it for a post for my Candidly Dating column, but who knows when I will finally meet someone who makes me feel this way. It’s better to share than to withhold, for maybe you need this in your life, dear Reader.

But that was how we recognized love, he thought: It made the exception. It was the case that broke the paradigm, the burning anomaly. In its light we failed at first to recognize ourselves, then saw ourselves clearly for the first time. It revealed our boundaries to be mutable; it forced us to shout yes when we’d spent our lives say no

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

All my love x

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Living Candidly #5: On constructing the narrative

I’ve had nothing to do but think these past few weeks about our bloody history. About the mistakes we’ve made. What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 6

These are tumultuous times. I scroll through my Twitter feed and it’s a cacophony of outrage, covering everything in venom from the Alabama abortion ban to the Georgia LGBTQ+ adoption ban to the series finale of Game of Thrones to my very own disgust at my taxi driver hocking a rather large loogie out the window of his vehicle. Occasionally, and very occasionally, there is a ray of sunshine. But all too commonly there is wonder at the downward spiral we seem too set in motion.

And while it could be incredibly deafening to have all these voices speaking out in digital megaphones, the effect is quite opposite in my opinion. It offers us a unique opportunity. We are given the chance to take what is otherwise a void and in its place construct a narrative of our own design — solo or in collaboration — that best reflects the world we would like to see. And yes, some can get lost in the din, but some are offered the chance to break through and make a difference in a way that they otherwise might not have been able to in years before.

About seventeen months ago, I released my first blog post on a public scale about mental health. I shared it on my personal Facebook account and left out no details — profiling the exact lows I sunk to and the medical measures that had to be taken in order to save my life from my own threats. I felt that an explanation on a major platform for the lifestyle changes that had occurred would not only exonerate me from residual guilt but also act as a catharsis. I did not, however, expect the outpouring of similar stories. I received several private messages from childhood and college acquaintances, sharing their own personal experiences with mental illness and their identification with my own encounters. I constructed my narrative publicly and, in turn, it allowed others to construct their own. Tyrion was right: stories unite people.

Today’s post is short, mostly a-political, and to the point: I want to encourage every person out there with a voice — and especially those who feel voiceless — to exercise their right to speak up. Construct your narrative. Make your story. There’s nothing more powerful. It can move an audience — the world — like no other. It has been proven to since before there was recorded history. Stories outdate every other invention, and they stand the test of time.

The magic is as wide as a smile and as narrow as a wink, loud as laughter and quiet as a tear, tall as a tale and deep as emotion. So strong, it can lift the spirit. So gentle, it can touch the heart.

I found the above quote almost a decade ago, and while I have long lost the source material now, I find it remains inspirational on the beneficent power behind true, authentic storytelling.

I hope some of what I’ve written today resonates with people to use their voices. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say, and I will defend your right to utilize your voice until my last breath.

All my love x

On willful ignorance, pt. 2

We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering for the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence.

– “Why I Am Not A Christian,” Bertrand Russell (1927)

Honey, there’s always a resistance. Didn’t you go to college?

– Vox, Christina Dalcher

Yesterday, you read (I hope) my selfish and superficial defense of introspective ignorance when it comes to personal folly. In short, I called myself out on my decision to write my deepest, purest self on the page while maintaining relative protection from those who will call me out on my faults — my friends and family.

This I know is just a form of pedaling backwards. It hinders growth with the pretense of enlightening the mind. It is anxiety decreasing while making no effort to truly solve the cause of the storm.

Today, I address my flaw and make the case against it.

I found myself reflecting upon the above quote by Bertrand Russell. I’ve read the article once but I immediately saved the excerpt as a note on my phone, one I’ve gone back to time and time again out of fear and anxiety and doubt.

The source title itself was enough to put me off initially. As I’ve discussed a countless number of times, I am spiritually Catholic. I grew up in a Republican household. I was taught to revere Church and State and, admittedly, mix them as they served the “common good” (read: the few and the pious). Now, retrospectively, I wonder how those who identify as both parties can reconcile the mingling of Church and State while still maintaining the literal and at times archaic interpretation of the Constitution — one that explicitly was created to eliminate this mingling seen in, I don’t know, the exact colony power that the Founders were arguing separation against?

I’m not here to indoctrinate on either end of the spectrum — the one I came from or the one I now belong to — but I am here to call bullshit. It’s time to call bullshit on the hubris and ignorance of man and woman.

Let’s take it to a literal, in-the-news case study: everyone’s favorite story, the appointment and fall of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I’ve discussed it before but honestly this is the case that keeps on giving me chills. From the moment his name escaped Trump’s orange tinged lips, I didn’t like him. Perhaps that’s pre-emptive of me, but the more I heard him announced, the more the unease settled in my stomach. Georgetown Prep. Yale undergrad. Yale law. White privilege, white privilege, white privilege. I expressed my concern to my father — wouldn’t it have been better to have a less privileged voice on the court? — and he immediately defended that such an argument only reverses the system of oppression so that white men cannot get as far as any other. I didn’t push further, hearing my counter argument swarm in my head (surely that’s what it’s been for everyone else for years?), but preferring not to tank what was our family vacation.

Now an all too frequent and terrible aspect of the underbelly of white male privilege is exposed — three voicing confessions of sexual assault at the hand of Kavanaugh — and what does the world say? Well, in fairness, some say ‘I hear you and I believe you’ but it is the intersectionality of my all too familiar background that speaks up oppositionally. Women in support of Kavanaugh find their way into newsrooms to argue the male supremacy case that ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘she was drinking and so was he’. I can’t even tell you how that makes my head spin, like the possessed that they would probably think I am. Kavanaugh made interesting claims such as ‘here’s my calendar from 1982, I wasn’t at that party’ (I highly doubt he would have scheduled a rape but maybe he is that sociopathic) and ‘I was a virgin in high school and long after’ (congrats. join the club.) and ‘here are 65 women who will attest I never assaulted them’ (only 65?).

Here is a case of societal, willful ignorance. This is the antithesis of productivity, of progress. This is what Russell warns against. This is why I know that my own willful ignorance of my faults will only act as a gateway to the mass act of it. This is why we must challenge ourselves and repent, not for the sake of salvation of the everlasting soul (see, told you I went to Catholic school) but for the sake of corporeal, earthly salvation of those who cannot speak as loudly for themselves, try all they might. This is where we need ‘knowledge, kindness and courage’: the knowledge to see ourselves for who we truly are, the kindness to forgive our flaws and those of others, but the courage to speak out against injustices even when it threatens to turn the tide against our personal preferences.

I can hear, see, feel my hypocrisy from the last twenty-four hours. This is why I created the two-part post, because I vow right now to be better. I’ll say I am wrong, but I’ll also say when I’m right. I’ll say I am flawed — we all are — but I’ll do it with the conviction to rise past them. I’ll listen when others talk, because there are so few that truly will, but I’ll also use my own voice to speak on behalf of others and myself.

We can no longer live in en masse willful ignorance.

 

Breaking my 17 year silence

Patience and trust will lead to your full recovery,

And in the settling dust I wrote this message for you to see.

It said you should go and start keeping track,

And I hope you know I’ve got your back.

— Curtis Walsh, “Full Recovery”

Yesterday I was clearly at a loss for words about the tragedy of 9/11, despite being several years since the event. I was shockingly even more tongue-tied than good old Donald Trump who tweeted the (albeit factual) unemotional “17 years since September 11th!” And when people tried to talk to me about it, I shut down. Fast. My American roommate tried to commiserate saying she was near tears on the tube in remembrance. My British friend sent me an article that featured a picture of the man who dove headfirst from near the top of the first fallen tower.

I’ve never been vocal about that day. Which is surprising, because I’m usually overly opinionated about everything. But something about the attacks on the World Trade Towers sets off a deeply unsettled core in me, unwinding and then tightening again in my gut. My closest comparison is when I watched Spotlight which, although a terrific film, outlined the widespread pedophilia cover-up within the American Catholic church — something that directly effected my family and community. I was so on edge watching the film that I made others around me visibly tense.

And when it comes down to it, I think I know why am I so quietly effected by widespread tragedy but so willing to be vocal about my own personal accounts. It’s almost shameful to say, but, quite simply, it’s not my story to tell. I remember the exact day of the attacks in vivid detail; my hometown is close enough to D.C. and the Pentagon that schools were under extreme vigilance that day, and many of my peers were extracted by their parents. But no one I knew by name fell immediately victim to the attacks. And so while I can stand by and be an ally for those who have suffered from the aftershocks of such ineffable cruelty, I can’t claim it as my own. There’s also a part of me that — knowing it isn’t my own — feels guilty about claiming someone else’s suffering for my own vanity on social media or in conversation.

I am American. I know the tragedy that befell so many of my compatriots and their families. But I refuse to steal their suffering for my own purposes. I can only cement my purpose and drive to be a shoulder to rely on while they repair their worlds, even 17 years on.