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Gertrude Stein and Jay Z Votan Aqui


The poet Gertrude Stein said that she wrote “for myself and strangers.” The rapper Jay Z inserted the line in his song “What More Can I Say,” tweaking the words slightly to, “I’m a writer for myself and others.” When I first heard the track I was bowled over by the reference. What the hell was a rapper doing referencing Gertrude Stein? It was a subtle lesson in interdependence, though I didn’t know it at the time.

This was election week, and like millions of Americans I went to the polls. My polling station was a middle school gym across the street from my building on the Upper West Side, a place I’d never been despite living fifty feet away for over a year. The walls were lined with stenciled athletic records dating back to 1917. Most situps. Most pull-ups. Charming stuff, really. A different time. Innocent? Perhaps. But perhaps as confused as our own.

After scanning my voting sheet I paused to feel my feet on the floor, making sure to make voting more than a rote experience, to feel a part of something bigger than my own interests, to vote "for myself and strangers." Gertrude and Jay came to mind, and I silently reflected on their strange connection.

Outside the air was cold, the faces impassive and hurried. I checked my phone for email. At the top of the queue was a message from Ethan Nichtern asking people to share their experience of voting. I replied that voting this year felt like something larger than before, that it was “for others, and because of others.”

And as I made my way to the subway I suddenly did feel a part of things, inextricably linked to the past, the present, and the future, to myself and strangers. Poets from bygone eras, rappers of my generation, voting with an eye towards what has been and what I hope will be, a Buddhist teacher wending his way into my phone as I stood on a New York corner.

The Buddha said that “one finds pleasure in listening to good teachings, when one has these feelings and appreciates them, one is free from fear.”

And in that moment, I was fearless.

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