I received the following gift from a long-time friend, Tony Mitchelson, who sent me a poem last week for the holiday season. I had been to one of his readings in the past, but realized I didn’t know the meaning of the word “Linyak.” I asked him what “Linyak” meant and he just sent me the following:
“Linyak is my revised spelling of the word Lagniappe which is a Creole word which means to ‘give a little something extra.’ The way it is used down in Louisiana is if your mother sent you to the store to buy something, when you paid for the goods the store owner would give you a little something extra. If you were a kid, he might give you a little brown bag with a few pieces of candy in it. If your mom sent you for vegetables, he might throw in a sweet potato, ear of corn or some item in the bag. That is called giving Lagniappe.
“I thought Linyak ‘giving a little something extra’ was a very good concept. So I brought the concept back to New York and formed an organization called ‘The Linyak Project’ where me and my friend and fellow writer, Layding started putting shows together with poetry, jazz, plays, medical and business info given to the public, and it was all free. We wanted to give a little something extra to the community that they didn’t have to pay for. At some of our events we also gave out food and beverages, all free. We had crowds of oven 100 people at places like schools, churches, book stores and cultural centers in New York City and in backyards of homes. We’ve hosted a Jazz Series at Layding’s brownstone home in Harlem.
“So that is what I’ve been doing for 11 years now. Usually we host 3 or 4 special events a year. We also hosted a once-a-month Fat Tuesday Linyak Project program at Sista’s Uptown Bookstore in Harlem where audiences could enjoy cultural events and show their talents to the public. We paid the performers out of our pockets and the audience experienced what Linyak is all about. We only hosted one Linyak Project event in 2020 due to the pandemic. Hopefully 2021 will allow us to continue spreading Linyak.”
We can all learn this beautiful concept and use it in our daily lives. Thank you Tony for this beautiful gift!
It’s been profoundly rewarding to run the playgroup in this year of Covid-19. If not for the confidence and determination of parents who wanted to go forward this year, and the fact that the group is so small, I’m not at all sure it could have happened. The rewards of going ahead have been immeasurable.
Much of my worry was around separation. In any other year, parents and/or caregivers are invited into the playgroup space to help the kids who are having trouble acclimating. This year it was clear months ago, as I started imaging how to structure things, that no one could enter the space other than me, my assistant and the kids. Shoes and coats are now left outside the playgroup space. Before entering temperatures are taken and hand sanitizer used by all those allowed inside.
The thing that keeps blowing my mind is that separation was the easiest it has ever been in the more than three decades I’ve been running playgroups. There were barely any tears or a desire to leave at any point from the very start. Amazing! Was it because the kids were so eager to be around each other and in an inviting space designed just for them? Was it because the parents and caregivers had to prepare themselves to let go at the door, and on the first day? As we know, kids are extremely sensitive to what the important adults around them are feeling. Both are probably true.
Whatever the reason, I am deeply grateful for this year. Everyone is so happy and dedicated to making it work for the whole year. Winter break is almost over and I’m so excited to get back together on Tuesday in the New Year.
So here we are in the middle of a pandemic. Few of us could have ever imagined what life would look like in August of 2020. In normal times, as parents and teachers of young children, we would be getting excited about the new school year and savoring the last days of summer before everything gets crazy busy again.
The tone of this time is very reminiscent for me of the days and months following September 11th of 2001. I speak for many – especially those of us who lived just blocks from the World Trade Center site – when I say it was other-worldly, thoroughly disturbing our sense of reality and normalcy. How could we get through it? How will our world look in the future? Will life ever feel normal again?
I believe life will feel normal again, just altered. Changes may be significant, but we will make it normal. We humans are extremely adaptable. Life will not be the same but that doesn’t have to mean awful. Our kids will, as always, take their cues from us.
On September 12, 2001 I closed the playgroup for a a short time – a total of three days as I recall. We had only just begun the school year on the 10th. The playgroup families did various things. Some got out of the city while others hunkered down in place. My daughter Sara and I travelled to my sister Frances and her family in Massachusetts. I went to the ocean the day after I got there. There was no one there but me and I cried and screamed into the air that thousands of people had just died and that I was so sad and so scared. I scared the daylights out of the seagulls who were walking on the beach I remember, which made me laugh a little between crying and screaming.
When we got back to New York I resumed the playgroup and vowed to myself to make it an oasis for the kids and the families. And it was. One family moved out of New York right away, but everyone else stayed. By the end of the school year we all felt lucky to have been part of something bright and hopeful.
I have that same feeling right now, although we’re going through a far more complicated time. We have to fight to get our lives back and fight injustice with regard to people of color, especially black people in this country. I’ve learned to be not just a non-racist, but an actively anti-racist person. This forcibly quiet and unhurried moment is a gift.
As I ready my playgroup space and my mind for this coming year, I have that same determination to make the playgroup a sanctuary. And I know it will be.
I loved my time at Judy’s Playgroup. I’m 32 and my best friends are still from there! It’s a community, creative loving and engaged. I feel so lucky.
- Lena Dunham, Class of 1989