Because That Mom Wants to Ban TKAM

Books are challenged all the time.  The political state of America is just (and always) getting hotter.  In a time where we need books more than ever, particularly books that foster discussion of racial barriers, gender barriers, and sexuality barriers, a school system has decided to ban two books that illuminated (and still do) the American experience.  And I would put “in the South” after that last sentence but I feel like that doesn’t take into account all the reverberations from Southern attitudes and culture on the rest of our nation, and really, the world.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I can think of several reasons to not teach To Kill a Mockingbird.  The one I most often use is that while this book is a true “coming of age” tale, that doesn’t mean it was written that way.  The narrator of this novel is an old woman looking back on her childhood. It’s not written from the child, or high school perspective, it’s written from the perspective of a woman who has lived a whole life and is flipping to which scrap book page story she will tell.  Although I don’t love teaching this book to students (not true, I loved it one year), would I ever ban this book from a classroom or institution of literacy, hell no.

To Kill a Mockingbird is arguably one of the most important books written about the South.  There’s an idyllic father, a neighborhood of interesting people, and a family built on the moral code of a saint.  (See: Go Set a Watchman for what I believe is more of the truth).  This part of the book is set against the part of the book that contains the trial of Tom Robinson and a look into not only the class system of the novel but the racial prejudice of the community. Tom Robinson, likewise, is a family man, idyllic in his own way, but due to lack of means (thanks to the community he lives in and the history of the US) lives in a community of people who hate him. One could argue, and I will, that this festering belief has sparked where we are today with #blacklivesmatter because black people are damn tired of being hated (in action AND words).

Love this poster for Banned Book Week from ALA

Love this poster for Banned Book Week from ALA

The problem I have with banning this book is the reasoning behind the parent’s wishes. She says her son “struggled to read the racist language,” furthermore, “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” And finally, “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

I could seriously give her some slurs right now, but we all know that solves nothing.

The problem with the mentality of this mother, and her son because he’s learning this wacked-out belief system, is that if we don’t give students the space to learn the context and scope of these words then they will always see them as “those that shall not be said.” I don’t want kids going around calling other kids n-words, but I also don’t want students to understand the implications behind language like this.

The belief, and I’m not sorry at all for this Donald Trump, but that words FUCKING matter.  And they are much larger than “curse words.” Words that appear in this book have connotations that could have potentially changed throughout times, that certain groups of people own and certain groups of people can never respect, words that have not only historical meaning, but meaning to our current world as well because the full mouth of their history has carried through to today.

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And the problem with our society is that instead of talking about, instead of asking @shishirose her definition, we push it under the rug, for the seven hundredth time and hope our little Chris or Patrick or Jean keeps that word to the confines of his own house, or his own friend group, or just keeps it locked away silent in his brain somewhere never to be used. We say it’s okay “as long as you don’t say it to those people, or we say “it’s never okay, it’s a dirty word, don’t say it.”  But if a child never gets educated on the context, the scope, and let’s not forget the HUMANS that this word has shaped, refined, developed, and trampled, then what is the point in any conversation ever? What are you protecting them from … life?

This isn’t life, people. This isn’t how we educate students on how to have a conversation. How to speak not to, but with people who are different from them so that they don’t end up with one token “different” friend because they’re too scared to love anyone who doesn’t agree with them, have the same upbringing as them, or understand the connotation of the words the same way they do.

You Don't Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent

I’ve been reading the book You Don’t Have to Like Me by Alida Nugent.  In the very beginning after the introduction, she discusses her growing up and having to choose a side because biracial wasn’t accepted (I’m not sure if I should have said that sentence in the past. You know how America loves its binaries).  She came to call herself a “mutt” in between figuring out who wanted what side of her.  Nugent goes through the realization that if she just discusses her white side she can get a job, a better paying job. But at what cost? She says, “My identity comes from how I feel.” and “We have to speak, in all our different voices, to tell our unique stories.  I will always tell mine” (30).  This is what I mean about words.  When we start banning books.  Wait, when we start banning words. Then, what else are we banning?

Words come with culture too. And the way we use them waves our beliefs in the air (like we just don’t care).  To ban a book is like banning a historical moment, blipping out that time period for your child.  To ban a book is like a blacking over, smudging out a whole culture of people who have come to either own that word, be known by that word, or despise that word because of the historical or societal weight it carries. To ban a book for a word is leaving out a narrative that could have educated your child on how to live in a world, a world in our “current political climate” and navigate it so that instead of hurting other people, they love them. With their words, because what else do they have?

 

Piecing the Scraps Together

I don’t know why the world falls for the recluse writer, but it’s so often I find myself turning to those that stuck their heads in ovens at the face of immense grief, or wrote in the library basements lacking even windows due to distractions.  For someone who can’t seem to write a book, or even a poem, honestly, I think the fact that I become obsessed with the journals of those that do is a quiet jealousy. They do it in the dusty silence of a tiny corner of their world and the chords I need to drag my own pinky knuckle across a page, hum.

From Virginia Woolf walking into a cold river (which I always imagined was a sea until I Googled it), to Dickinson with her corner windows and desk just tight enough to fit a pen nib, I love the underdog.  These women who, for reasons we may never know, had gaps in their relationship with society.  Gaps that kept them behind walls or within overcoats.

I think I’ve defined the term madness and almost wanted it at times in my life because of these women.

Emily Dickinson's poem scraps @ Amherst College Digital Archives

Emily Dickinson’s poem scraps @ Amherst College Digital Archives

So when I read the story in this issue of  The New Yorker about Dickinson’s line scraps of poetry, I couldn’t help but want to piece them together to build the string pieces of the woman behind the curve of each letter.  It may be a memory that I actually own, or a memory that was put in my head by repeated family stories, passed down memories, that my family member’s mother had scraps of the Bible taped to the walls all over her house.  They weren’t cited, and they were on everything from tissues, to post-its, to patterned holiday napkins.  Her mother passed away from a brain tumor and so I can’t be sure if her need to have the Bible so close that it looked at her daily was due to this or other reasons.  I used to tell people this story when I wanted to define “crazy,” (as a teenager) but as I came of age I realized the authenticity of holding words in your hand, surrounding yourself with their tight verses, and carrying them literally.

Image from The Oxonian Review (Emily Dickinson's poetry scraps)

Image from The Oxonian Review (Emily Dickinson’s poetry scraps)

How often is it really that a girl in a bar, smacks a kiss on a napkin with her phone number and hands it to a boy across the room?

What have we lost by sending emails instead of envelopes?

Where is the receipt where my mother wrote me directions to the house on 5 Marlow.

How can I read my dad’s handwriting except from his yellow pad of finance keepings.

Vintage McDonald's Booth @ Ebay

Vintage McDonald’s Booth @ Ebay

And the note folded in my wallet, every wallet from the cusp of adulthood forward, my Mom’s list of what she needed to discuss with me before going to college in a McDonald’s glittery booth. And my Dad’s note on the counter the morning that I left with my Australian visa.

Beej flowers note from a month(ish) ago.

Beej flowers note from a month(ish) ago.

These scraps, pieced together, are a life. The calling card at the top of sent flowers. I have the last one from Beej taped into my planner. I can’t let go of even one single word.  The more my mother’s eighteenth birthday list gets folded, it gets creased, and becomes like an over-washed jean.  I hope that the pen never fades and I can always read my mother’s beautiful cursive and imagine her hand in the air working shorthand words in her head.  One day I will literally need this note and I keep it for two reasons: the memory and the real product of my mother’s love.

Wikipedia Image of Emily Dickinson

Wikipedia Image of Emily Dickinson

This blog kind of got away from me, but I wanted to share this tiny reading obsession.  My favorite moment of the linked article above is this quote about Dickinson from a family member, “A younger cousin recalled her reciting the “most emphatic things in the pantry” while skimming the milk.”  Also the fact that Dickinson, like most female writers, didn’t really become known until after death and only published a scant number of poems anonymously in her lifetime.  She did, however, write letters with lines of poems.

I wonder if she planned to test them out on her friends, see their response.

I wonder if she just had to get them out like a visceral response, an allergy.

I wonder if she just wrote like this, across all spaces and genres. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Lines like “the thief, compassion for integrity” reside in Amherst College Digital Archives. They’re beautiful standing alone or folded into an apron. I’m sure in some sense Emily Dickinson knew this, unless she was just humbled by the need to put nib to paper.  Just another scribble like forced labor. Folded half into a paper airplane and left for a letter later.

 

On Why I Can’t Be a Travel Blogger | Featuring Reykjavik

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-49-01-amLet’s be honest, I could never be a travel blogger because I suck at timing.  In almost everything, timing is not my thing.   My jokes are typically ill-timed in a moment where people in the conversation have stepped back through the window of their own thoughts and are looking around.  I respond to emails with the same attitude they’re written to me and as soon as I see them (and I get them to my phone so that can create huge lessons in autocorrect and bluntness).  This can be particularly nasty when you spend most of your day with fifteen year olds.  But in blogging and most other small persuasion business endevors it’s all about timing and thus, my foray into travel blogging is short-lived.  Actually it’s exactly like four more posts.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-10-48-34-amI also always open these blogs with nothing about the actual blog and I think travel bloggers just get right to it.  In order to prove this point, here are some bloggers that have gone to Iceland that I really used while I was there.

  1. The Young Adventuress
  2. The Wanderlust Blog
  3. Travelettes
  4. The Blonde Abroad
  5. Nomadic Matt
  6. Life with a View
  7. Roadtrip Through Iceland
  8. Fathom Away
The Gray Cat

The Gray Cat

The second day we went to a blogger recommended spot for breakfast.  We discovered that the Icelandic on the door meant The Gray Cat which is perfect for two full-blown cat ladies.  The breakfast was one of only two very American things that I ate in Iceland.  The plate was FULL of eggs and salsa covered potatoes and The Gray Cat was stocked with books; Icelandic and English.

The Gray Cat (it's right across from The Culture House)

The Gray Cat (it’s right across from The Culture House)

I had a Swiss Mocha which is when I discovered that Icelanders serve hot cocoa in a glass with a straw.  There were TWO people working, literally.  What I imagine is a very quaint kitchen in the back with the sounds of spoon against skillet and a little blonde woman in an apron is the definition of this cafe.  At this spot is when I really put the pieces together that Icelanders are a blunt, straightforward bunch.  What I would normally recognize as a general coldness is really just a people that probably don’t have time for frills.

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Reykjavik Harbor

Christine and I thought that maybe because we’re American and we believe that we can conquer anything, move mountains, move West, strike gold, we don’t understand our own smallness in the world. Our own unique thumbprint on the shape of it is more important than the vastness of nature and the things that are truly so much bigger than us and have lasted longer, out-stood our careless misadventures and innovations and just stood. The way that I don’t believe I’m capable of, just yet.

Glo, where I attempted to read the paper

Glo, where I attempted to read the paper

(This is obviously my take and no Icelanders were harmed in the making of this blog because they were truly lovely to us all the time.  In fact, in my next blog, you’ll learn about the box truck man that we want to find to thank again who moved our car out of a dire parallel parking situation and then just waved goodbye).

img_1426I was going to write about our exact misadventures on day two, but I feel like this post is leading me more towards talking about the city of Reykjavik (which I can now actually spell without looking, but still probably don’t say properly).  I loved and hated parts of this city.  It’s a hodgepodge of homes, colors, graffiti, and true backyard fairy gardens.  We barely tapped the tourist section of the city because we knew it would be far too expensive, but we did walk around the backstreets.  We even saw an Obama head in a basement apartment window.  The murals on the sides of buildings were dreamy and thoughtful.  It was never just an image, but something greater, some tall story that said something across languages. Several times, I turned to Christine and said, “I want to show my students this one.”

Cafe Babalou - THE BEST Vegan Carrot Cake

Cafe Babalou – THE BEST Vegan Carrot Cake

We had a wifi hotspot from Route 1 car rental, so we could easily navigate with maps, but by the fourth day we kind of had it figured out.  We knew which fence patterns to turn at, how many streets up from Snorrabraut was the cafe that we loved.  Everything in it would be completely tacky alone, but when it was all together, it was an assortment of the coolest hipster and your grandmother, Cafe Babalou.

We also could navigate straight from any parking spot to Joylato, a gluten free everything, ice cream place that made the ice cream in Kitchen Aid mixers right in front of you.  (I recommend the salted caramel with peanut butter crumbles).

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See what I mean about hipsters and grandma’s house ; Cafe Babalou

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My travel partner and CAKE on Thanksgiving evening.

I have no pictures of Joylato because I suck, but it's delicious and turquoise on the outside!

I have no pictures of Joylato because I suck, but it’s delicious and turquoise on the outside!

Joylato was also one of the first places that I really witnessed the gender neutrality of Iceland.  When you imagine going to a country of Vikings, you think that there will be a clear divide between the feminine and masculine. In Joylato, two men always served us and the shop is inspired by a spiritualist.  So much so, that there were about seven pictures of him hanging in a row with one picture of Jesus.  I googled him to figure out who he was, but still am a little unsure so I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to accidentally shame someone’s values.   I’m not sure why I didn’t think two men could own an ice cream shop, because obviously they can, but I just don’t think that would be as widely seen in America.  We put men on television when they make cakes, (Hey, Cake Boss), so it was interesting for me to see that Iceland welcomed any gender, anything.

We did Happy Hour at the Dillon twice to write down a timeline of our trip. 700 krona wine.

We did Happy Hour at the Dillon twice to write down a timeline of our trip. 700 krona wine.

There were so many reasons to love Reykjavik.  It has a woodsy charm as if the city hadn’t actually taken over the environment, but they were living dual harmony.  It was expensive though.  EX-PEN-SIVE.  We couldn’t really ever eat for less than $25 at every meal.  Our breakfast at The Gray Cat was upwards of $30-$35.  At one point, the last day, on a road trip, we stopped at a convenient store and got a bag of fries, a BAG OF FRIES , for $7 though.  I thought I asked for a medium, but I got a bag and attempted to fill the bag with ketchup. It ended up ripping and spilling fries all over me at a toll with a nice gentlemen who gave us a toilet paper bag. There were so many things to love in Reykjavik that weren’t monetary though.  The line of mountains in the distance, the quotes and city lights, the fact that you always felt safe because Iceland has very little crime, but also there was a clear lack of tension in Reykjavik.  In America, you can almost feel the heat off of people.  We are anxious (particularly with the election) and worried and we have just so much to do, that didn’t exist in Iceland.

Cutest spot in Reykjavik Roasters

Cutest spot in Reykjavik Roasters

Here’s a list of places we ate at, not mentioned in this article, but photographed above:

  1. Glo (vegan and gluten free options)
  2. Reykjavik Roasters (THE coffees spot in Reykjavik).
  3. Pilsa Pulsa (where we ate Thanksgiving Dinner)
  4. The Dillon (you HAVE to hit up their Happy Hour every afternoon).
  5. The Gray Cat (Cute, expensive)
  6. Cafe Babalou (FAVORITE)
  7. Fridheimar Tomato Farm (not in Reykjavik, but the most delicious meal we ate, easily. I will write about this one in a later blog).
  8. The Big Lebowski (American cheeseburger when you need one).

I guess it’s true what they say, “You’re a dipstick if you don’t visit Reykjavik.”

*No one says that.

Next up, Pingvellir pronounced Thing-val-eer

Winter is Coming | Iceland Part 1

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Currently, Christine and I are blogging from the car (we got 4g wifi like ballers and didn’t realize until day 2 that we could actually remove the device from the car and get a hotspot).  We’re trying to decipher the difference between hairy rocks, horses, and sheep out here in the darkness, but mostly it’s just snow, black lava rock and geyser fog. When we googled what word to use after geyser there (smoke, steam, fog, the works) we found out you could order Geyser fog machines for parties and relive the Iceland experience.

image2-1-2Any who, I thought this was the perfect time to capsule our first two days in Iceland.  We’ve hit up all the tourist attractions pretty much these last two days.  The Blue Lagoon turned our hair to straw, and there ain’t no magic conditioner that’s going to turn it back to gold.  Not that this is the only thing we remember from the Blue Lagoon.

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Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal heated hot spring that appears suddenly on the horizon about twenty minutes from the airport.  A few roundabouts later (literally) and you can be out of those cabin air clothes and into a giant salty hot tub.  The silica is a bit overpowering, but they serve drinks at a swim up bar which makes it “hella” worth it.  Plus, drinks everywhere else in Iceland will break the bank, so you might as well choose at least the “comfort” level at The Blue Lagoon because with that level you get a free drink, algae mask, and a towel.  Probably the towel is the most important part of that combination because in winter, Iceland is like a frozen tundra.

image10Plus, trust me, you need the algae mask after a girl in a 1950s flowered bathing cap offers you a silica mud mask and your face dries up like a porous rock. Not saying it wasn’t worth it because it felt great, but I’ve been a piece of sawdust for the last two days.  The cold doesn’t help.  We floated like ghosts through the steam for about three hours, or until pruned, and headed out to forcibly not nap.

The force was with us though because we found our way to the city and had a nice lunch at Glo with liquid nitrogen salted caramel ice cream afterwards at Joyland.

image4What I love about Iceland so far is that there’s so much rich history.  Almost everything is sustainable or made from Green Energy.  It looks like the moon (or what I would imagine that the moon looks like).  You never know when a mountain will just pop up on the side of your car.  We’ve been driving this little roadster called the Suzuki Jimmy and Christine WHIPS it around roundabouts like a bumper car.  And this country is just MAJESTIC.

Tomorrow I’ll write about our hike through the National Park (in which I thought I was cast into Game of Thrones), our first (and probably last) taste of tectonic plate glacial water, the TOMATO FARM, the lies behind Instagram’s Iceland bloggers aka the Northern Lights, and our Suzuki Jimmy. Plus, the discovery made that sunsets and sunrises probably take the same particle amount of beautiful to make you miss home anywhere in the world.

Children’s Books That I’m Going to Write Because of Election Results

In the shock stage of grief that I am in, I don’t have an eloquent way of stating my feelings. What I do know what to speak is books and lists. So … in an effort to put something forth in a meaningful way, here is a list of all the children’s books I would like to write now that we have unfortunate election results.

  1. Grey Matter: It would star a little brain named Carl and his pineapple best friend named Smother and be a book that talks about all the other factors that hum around opposites with the moral that “Almost nothing is black or white.” (Words would also fall into grey matter. Sorry, Trump).

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-5-37-59-pm2. Tuesday’s with Morrie: (Children’s edition). And it would include mostly the quote to the right as the moral. And Morrie would be the cutest old man who wore sweater vests and hunched over a little when he walked.

Glass Slippers

Glass Slippers

3. Hillary’s Glass Ceiling which would be composed of patterned pantsuits, Hillary rappelling the Washington monument (because let’s be honest, the children could look back at this book and study the phallic symbols when they’re in English 101), and glass slippers. I’m not really sure how the slippers come in, but I feel like they fit.

Pantsuits

Pantsuits

4.  Blaze(r).  This one would be illustrated by Maira Kalman and Rachel Maddow would write it.  It’s a superhero comic about a women in a fierce patterned pantsuit (similar to Mrs. Frizzle) that takes on the world for girls everywhere. (And there would obviously be villains).  Bernie Sanders would also totally be in the spin-off comics as part of the super squad. His superhero name would be Suspanders.

5. Construct: would be a children’s book about building different architecture and would at some point become a metaphor for systemic issues in our society.  This one might now be a children’s book, but an adult book that has pictures.

6. Biggertry: which would be all about being the bigger person.  It would totally  be about a boy named Glee.  It would kind of be inspired by the poem “Guidelines”  and how a reaction to bigotry can change the bigot’s perspective.

7. Fences: This would be a book full of metaphors about breaking down walls.  This one is the most formed in my mind, it would have two neighbors and be a hodge podge of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” and “The Interlopers” by Saki, and a mashup of quotes from this election talking about Trumps BIG PLAN to build a wall. (Hmph).  It would also be part grammar (about how paragraphs are just sections of a text that have fences around them).  The book would probably be two sets of neighbors.  I’m actually inspired by my neighbor who finished off our fence out of the goodness of her own heart and didn’t even tell us she was doing it. PS. She’s a Muslim. I feel like this is an important part for you to know if you’re full of judgment right now. (If you are, I hope you can shit it all out later).

Donald Trump Mouth Cartoon / Scranton Times Tribune / Artist: John Cole

Donald Trump Mouth Cartoon / Scranton Times Tribune

8. The Man Behind the Mouth: Obviously, this would have a guy with a comb over and a red tie on the cover.  (Not naming names).  And he would say all kinds of ridiculously terrible things and people would correct him, maybe correct is the wrong word, but they would kindly and respectfully rephrase his points and give him reasons to change them. And the crowds correcting him would get bigger and bigger until he no longer fit on the page.  And then on the very last page, they would all hug. (This one’s my secret favorite).

Let me know your titles and ideas.

On why I’m deplorable due to my dislike of Fates and Furies

President Obama said it. Claire said it. (She’s up there with Obama in my book recommendation circle).  Brianna said it, too.  My own gut intuition said it.  And then the fates (or the sirens) decided, all the saints from Riverhead decided, that I would be awarded an advanced copy on that funny little shell called Instagram where I house various pictures of my dogs, my sweats, and my open pages. (@bookishcassie).

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

And now it’s sitting, dainty and prudish in its cove of the library hutch.  I would take a picture but that would really only represent the true amount of neglect that this book has seen across spring break pools, ocean sands, hotel rooms with fancy wooden stumps, suitcases, backpacks, and now the library hutch (which also regrettably hasn’t been dusted since its moved in).  This book, Fates and Furies, by one of my favorite authors, Lauren Groff.

I read her short stories with reckless abandon.  I made it through Arcadia, not really her best work but characterization was “magical at times,” as I tell my AP kids their essays need to be (not so sarcastically).  I quit Monsters at Templeton about forty pages in.   I’m pretty much a quitter if a book doesn’t grip me in some way or I don’t owe someone for the reading.  So, it’s probably safe to say, I should stick to stories by her published in The New Yorker.

Truth is though, I really wanted to like it.  I kept reading ahead because I couldn’t stand the drawl of this marriage.  All one-sided from the perspective of Lotto.  I just had to Google that name which shows how much I really got involved with this narcissistic asshole. Sure, there were things to love about Lotto, how he was always a bit half-baked like all men we meet in our twenties (can I get an amen?) And how he half expected Mathilde to just shell out her female superpowers and own that whole house until he managed to write a decent play.

This just was and wasn’t the life that I knew of anyone ever.  Like, sure, marriage sucks sometimes, and those little tabs of deception, poked through receipts of burnt out anger, and the tips of sadness, adds up and amounts to some sort of heated disgust with our partner, but I don’t know anyone who just makes up for that (and their sordid childhood of fuckedupness) to become a famous playwright.  Does this really happen? REALLY?

If this was a movie, you would see REALLY get bigger and bigger across the screen and get shouted louder and louder.

I think I made it through a few pages of Mathilde’s section because I got to the point that Lotto just kills himself.

Fates, Furies, and Tobacco in Cameron, NC.

Fates, Furies, and Tobacco in Cameron, NC.

And then I was outtie, five thoughty.  Seriously, Lotto, you’re going to put us through your griping for (at a guess) one hundred and seventy pages and then kill yourself? Am I really ruining it for anyone who was late to this show and was going to pick it up a solid year after its big bestseller list extravaganza? I couldn’t even read Mathilde’s section because I. DIDN’T. CARE.

I felt for the woman. I did. Her character gets scraped off the pavement after being known as ghostly and definitely only sexy to Lotto who cheats on her (I think, can’t really remember since May) a lot.  But then Lotto, who she’s spent so much gas on just up and kills himself.  And I gotcha, I’m supposed to make the connection to that chick from his childhood and realize that grief tanks all of us in minuscule and big picture ways, but come on.

Matilda (spelled correctly, maybe?)

Matilda (spelled correctly, maybe?)

The only Mathilde I want to know is the one who watches that large boy eat the whole chocolate cake and gets taught by Ms. Honey.

I can’t. I couldn’t. I refuse. I won’t.

I probably should though since I have such strong feelings.  I may have even fake reviewed this at some point? But that’s not really my style so I doubt it.

I’m not saying I won’t read all of Lauren Groff’s other books, because I will, probably the second they come out, but I am saying that I feel lonely on this island of deplorables that just didn’t enjoy reading Fates and Furies.  (Notice we got out of the basket though).

(And come on, the metaphorical Greek / Roman tragedies abound here). ALLUSIONS!

No, really.

No, really.

Really, all I want you to get out of this blog today is that you need to go vote. And not because I disliked a book that everyone else liked, BUT because the people who are the most deplorable are those that don’t use their democracy when there are people around the world who get no voice at all. You’re given one, a tiny one on a piece of white copy paper that goes through a scanning counter that’s approximately seventy-two years old, but you get one nonetheless.  (Shhhh. #Imwithher).

A Soundtrack for Beloved

Beloved By Toni Morrison

Beloved By Toni Morrison

I’ve been reading Beloved, which is my third Morrison book in a year.  I’m mildly obsessed, if by mildly you mean I have a purple marker on the ready for every awkward star I need to draw in the margins.  Plus, during the Halloween / Day of the Dead / All Souls Day time of the year, a good ghost story always comes in handy, even if it is incredibly sad.  Actually, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward reminds me a lot of Beloved.  Both books lead the reader slowly into high tension, like a pot boiling water for tea.  Before you know it, you’re in the dense heat waiting for the quake.  I haven’t hit the quake yet in Beloved, but Sethe does know what’s going on and Paul D has returned to whatever vagabond life he led pre-Sethe.

In studying lyrics with my AP Literature class, I’ve thought a lot about Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize in Literature award (of which he was silent about for days and then came out like a young crowned prince in a rare interview).  I think lyrics are really accessible for students in this generation, but I think anytime we read something that’s so moving we can’t really put it into words, it deserves a soundtrack. Thus, the Beloved soundtrack, as best I can do.

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President Obama's Playlists

President Obama’s Playlists

In creating this post, I discovered that President Obama makes Spotify playlists. The last three songs are definitely after a few rounds of listening to his playlists.  With the upcoming election results coming in just four short days (with an extra hour for daylights savings), it’s interesting to look at the emotional state of these songs as President Obama campaigns for Clinton and the end of his eight years in the White House (which brings me a lot of sadness as I would vote for that man and his family about twenty more times.  In fact, can Michelle run in the next four years?)  This is exactly what I tried to do with Beloved and my emotional state when reading and researching this book. If you’ve never read anything by Morrison, I highly recommend it.

Here are some reasons:

  1. She’s considered an author in The New Canon. 
  2. Her books always have strong female characters who are often forced to walk through oppression, trauma, and historical blindspots.  (My personal favorite is Sula).
  3. If you need an introduction, her essay “Strangers” is one of my favorites. (Can be found in the Norton Reader).
  4. She holds her own Nobel Prize in Literature.
  5. She knows why she writes, “I want to write for people like me, which is to say black people, curious people, demanding people — people who can’t be faked, people who don’t need to be patronized, people who have very, very high criteria.”
  6. She’s the queen of historical fiction (except she doesn’t really fit any “genre”).

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My favorite Morrison book is Sula and I think it’s one of the easiest to start with.  I think I read in two days.  What are your favorites? Have any of her books been on your To Read lists forever? Do you have any favorite quotes from her novels? If you have a great reason to recommend Song of Soloman or Paradise, I will hear it because those are the two I haven’t read yet.

I can’t breathe /

I believe we need to talk about race.

My longest friend is a mixed race, homosexual man.  This is if I reduce him to his census data. Although “mixed race” is a term we constructed to make sure the one drop rule stands.  And homosexual is a nice dot on a spectrum of sexuality that has ranges larger than four categories and connotations stronger than a dictionary term.

The rest is just unused data.

Because America designates that you must be this, or you must be this. I can’t speak for the world because I haven’t visited it, but I can speak for what I see in my country.

“You are this. You aren’t this. You can sit at the table. You may not break the bread.  You ride in this seat.  You are allowed to use this water fountain. You can participate in gender specific olympic events.  You have too much testosterone. You can be medically reconfigured into a woman. But you were a man first, always remember. You stay in the closet. You stay in your own head. You don’t speak of the police’s interactions. You mourn the loss. You side with the white man holding a gun. You believe in thugs. You don’t. You think school is a pipeline to prison.”

I could write this list for days, through tears, and still not get to some root, or meaning, or end to the categorical boxes we’ve placed ourselves in.

The Fire This Time | Jesmyn Ward

The Fire This Time | Jesmyn Ward

And this is why I took up The Fire This Time when Clint Smith wrote about its publish date on his Twitter.  I requested it from the library because I’ve studied Baldwin.  I’ve read him to students in American Literature. My gut was filled with tension at the climax of Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, and in my most intimate friendship of seventeen years we spent an evening on ice, skating around race after he posted on Facebook pictures of Oakland protests, and called out white people for their misunderstanding of why African American’s are covering highways.  And he still has not told me about his own encounter traveling west this summer with a white police officer somewhere over Kansas, maybe? I don’t even know because I am not someone he chose to talk to about it.

It could be because I grew up in Suburbia with literal picket fences in my neighborhood.  And that our high school had to bus in non-white students from downtown so that they could call themselves “diverse.” It could be that I once said something that made him feel like I could never understand the walk in his shoes and that race is not something that should enter this friendship because it could inevitably end it.

And I can’t live like that, and I don’t think he can.  I can’t be sure, but I think we’re ready for some critical conversations, and not just the two of us, but the communities we live in.  Race can be a hot burner that we avoid or it can be discussed beyond the reaches of Twitter.  So, I brought it to my classroom.

Clint Smith

Clint Smith

I read this quote in The Fire This Time, “Who I am is who I must be: a flawed human striving to live in a state of becoming.” Mitch Jackson in his essay “Composite Pops.”  When I got through the first part of The Fire this Time and was well into The Reckoning, I read Clint Smith’s poem “Queries of Unrest.” I had followed him on Twitter for some time, retweeting his educational reform tweets (@ClintSmithIII), and liking almost any reference to SLAM that he posted.  I had never read any of his poetry unless it appeared on youtube. But this poem, with its allusion to the classic children’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein was where race would enter my classroom this year.

Citizen | Claudia Rankine

Citizen | Claudia Rankine

Last year, I used excerpts from Citizen by Claudia Rankine in my refugee unit and encouraged my students to buy it, but we didn’t do enough open dialogue with the book and ourselves. I find it interesting that I used a collection of writing about the black experience in America to talk about refugees due to Edwidge Danticat’s final essay “To My Daughters” in The Fire This Time where an immigration lawyer discusses the fact that “African Americans living in the United States could easily qualify as refugees.  Citing many recent cases of police brutality and killings of unarmed black men, women, and children.”

(If you’re reading this like “this girl is only seeing one side,” then you should know that I’ve read the other side too. And I’ve read the academic journals. And I’ve studied the cases enough to be at a point where I need to talk about it to be okay with the person that I hold inside this body).

Where the Sidewalk Ends | Shel Silverstein

Where the Sidewalk Ends | Shel Silverstein

This year in our first unit for perspective we did it. “Queries of Unrest.” Step by step: We analyzed “Where the Sidewalk Ends” for its lessons to children and its lesson to adults.  A lot of my students said it looked like the edge of where childhood ends. Or it looks to be a new beginning after a dark period. Or for adults, the sidewalk could end in death. Or for children, they could be forging a new path.  There were many interpretations which is the proof of the power of words, and the power of poetry, and the power of English.  We then read “Queries of Unrest.”

I just asked for meaning.  Few annotations. A little interpretation. Initial thoughts.  I didn’t need them to drown the poem. (Due to the fact that I don’t want anyone to have the ability to write my students off in this discussion, I teach in a high-poverty Title 1 school with a ton of students who are first generation college students.   That’s not to say I don’t have students who live in neighborhoods straight out of middle class America where everyone rides their bike to the pool in the summer and stays there all day until their mother’s are home to make a meal prepped with every piece of the food pyramid.  They do know the meaning of sidewalks ending though).

They gave me that.

We didn’t discuss it because they would discuss it in silent writing in a chalk talk.  The chalk talk has three pieces of chart paper and three question bubbles.  The questions are as follows:

  1. If every piece of writing is manipulation, then how is this poem doing that?
  2. What is your strongest interpretation of this poem?
  3. What does power have to do with justice and fairness?

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-26-56-amThe silent hum of markers on paper was monumental, but it wasn’t until I started getting single questions that I realized the tension was bubbling.  A white student had written “people of color” as an umbrella term to categorize everyone that isn’t white in a statement.  While this is the “politically correct” term deemed by media (who are mostly white and in power), the question should be asked that a. why do we even have a term that is for everyone not white, and b. how does the historical background of the word “color” in that phrase impact an African American.

And the answer came in the form of my students. The word color was unacceptable for some, particularly one of my more vocal students who isn’t afraid to speak her mind and I’m so proud of her for that.  Others wanted to use it as something to embrace.  At one point the idea of the phrase “I see no color,” came up, similar to “I don’t see race,” and in unison the agreement was that that’s not even possible and it disregards the great diversity of the classroom.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-10-amI’m not going to lie, it was heated.  At one point, one girl stepped towards another, using her body as a signal of disruption.  BUT it was a critical conversation.  Sometimes in society, we don’t realize that people don’t come from a place of understanding or even knowledge, they come from a place of ignorance.  And when that’s not the case, and they’re coming from a place of flat-out untruths then it is a responsibility of the other human beings (in my mind) to crack that “truth” wide open until it’s questioned.  Sometimes all we can ask is that people question their own beliefs.  Sometimes that’s a beginning.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-26-amMy students came to the conclusion that the only acceptable truth in my classroom, for “umbrella terms” is that we call everyone “people of multiple races.”  This was accepted and has been used since by all parties, even when those parties are in disagreement.

It is my belief that in the classroom, and in the street, we have to discuss things that are controversial and we have to be the cause for understanding.  I tweeted this. I believe it. And I think it can take us down a path of knowledge and not ignorance. I believe it starts with more knowledge, and thus I believe that The Fire This Time is the strongest and most powerful book I’ve read this year.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-37-amI got a copy from the library and now it is dog-earred to oblivion for the next person.  This book is strong because we are weak humans that often put blame where we like to keep it, in boxes that are tight and narrow and inescapable.  We like to look at our side of the picture without viewing the whole thing.  We like to have a perspective, and clutch it tight in our fists and never let it turn to liquid and move.

This book showed me where I’ve failed, where I’m still failing.  It showed me my own bias.  It looked in my face and told me I was wrong.  This is the same thing that happened in my classroom on Thursday and the same thing that should be happening across America until the discussion is so loud, and so filled with every form of rhetoric, and has the voices of every American.

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-27-45-amIt is no longer valuable (and not acceptable) to sit in indifference.

I know that this isn’t “a book review.” But how do you review a collection of human truths? You can’t. You can only recommend it be the most borrowed book at the local library.  It enters classrooms. It enters conversations.  It breaks down the tight-knit boxes that we have shut so tight no air gets through / “I can’t breathe” /

 

Mudbound: In a Genre I Like to call “Grandma Literature”

This whole section is my story of coming to this book:

I was recommended this read by Sunday night #APLitchat teachers so it’s fitting that I finished this book over the weekend and have a keen need to address it.  Plus, big news, I’m officially out of a book slump.  I can’t say I was in a reading slump because I was constantly reading the news, articles, short stories, and anthologies, but I haven’t read a book all summer.  This, from the girl with the blog about books.

I wasn’t aware when I started the story, because who reads the author discussion at the beginning, that Hillary Jordan’s grandmother, and real life farm, Mudbound was what inspired the novel.  Everyone here today knows that I’m a sucker for grandmother literature.  Lucy Calkins advises her writers to keep a running list called “Writing Territories.” I think Ms. McClure outlines what these look like the best.  When I was still teaching at Scotland, I wrote my own writing territories to introduce the concept to my creative writing class.  This was probably two years ago, but I think they still ring true today.  I love using my grandmother’s stroke tone, the virginity of southern girls and its harness, clotheslines and Carolina red mud, widows on grand second floor terraces with handkerchiefs, and rain, too much rain, rain so caked with mud, it can no longer be known as two separate things.

This whole section is the story of this book coming to me (and hopefully you):

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Which is why I wish I wrote Mudbound.  Mudbound is the story of land and the people that reside on that land, both owned and unowned.  It is the story of a full crop season, a pair of families deeply interwoven with poisonous roots and it’s told from the multiple perspectives of the farm. I love a book where narration changes every chapter, but it’s not often that those books turn out so well, when every character given the opportunity to speak bends the influence of the one that came before.

I think the best way to describe it is by using my favorite idea from the book.  The voiced men are full of “bone-sense,” something that comes from an “older, darker place.”  They move, make decisions, and crack white like scars all in the physical sense.  They drink to soothe their mind.  They take from the body what they believe is taken from the town’s moral conscience.  They think with the turning of the land, the seeding of the crop, and the thrust of rain.  The women, however, are “head-sense,” moving with passion built on daily wear and tear desire.  Florence, my favorite character, is described as all body – a rough, tall woman, with the force of a “Delta Storm.  However, she handles the inequities with her mind and then uses those churned thoughts for the utility of her body.  She is a character that women can be proud of.

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 7.10.07 PMThis book is also one of those books that leaves the cliffhanger on the tip of every chapter.  The “if I just would have known then…” or “that’s the last time I heard his voice..” takes the reader through a slow burn.  When the great moment comes, and even when it has left the land, the anticipation of hearing the angle of every character still heightens the book through its end. Ronsel, my second favorite character gets the last word (which is significant due to the big scene. He ends with what I believe is Jordan’s great social commentary of the book:

“But to make the story come out differently I’d have to overcome so much: birth and education and oppression, fear and deformity and shame, anyone of which is enough to defeat a man” (322).

“Coal-Is-Dirty.com”

And isn’t this true when a system is built to keep the land in the hands of the generation before.  An ownership passed down like a belief.  A tenure of laws built on the justice of making a profit.  A claim and a title that cant be read.   But those other hands, calloused and bruised, glued together so they can’t sign a name, hold another, or shake on it – we’ve used those to defeat a man before he can even grip that system to tear it down.

And this is what I like best about this book.  It’s set in WWII, two of the male characters face different life circumstances at the hands of the war, but it is not a book about WWII.  It’s a book about raising an unsettled loss into a belief system that rides one side at the helplessness of another.  I think sometimes it’s hard to see that timeline and be able to look in the mirror.  While men, good and bad, were fighting Nazis, we had laws that pursued the disregard of human beings that I would argue still dilute our waters today.  Our hands weren’t clean either.

Art by Darling Christie @Deviant Art

This book is not only brilliant because of the many voices that ring true and relentless, but because of the deep history that our society tends to neglect until it’s a major motion picture that’s not nominated for any awards.  Or until a young and powerful gymnast chooses to honor her country with her hands behind her back instead of on her heart.  Or when the media feeds 24 hour news of shootings until the cases no longer affect the populace and we just call it “another one…” Maybe this book will remind us of who belong to, each other.

(Thanks, Mother Teresa).

This Blog is My Composition Book.

Syllabus by Lynda Berry

Confession: I hate composition books.  I find them hard to keep open unless you lean your elbow on them just the right way which seems incredibly awkward. The lines are almost never college rule, but wide, and it makes me feel like my handwriting is some behemoth come to mammoth the page with its dense, dark script. RAWR!  In high school, my Mom bought me the “special” comp books that had a more rad design, but the still hard cardboard front with the scientific table in the beginning.  I always wanted to be “unique,” which really just meant against everything else that was boxed.  If she did buy the marble cover, because it was ten cents at Target, and “what a deal,” I would color weird designs into the marble until they all just blended to black together.  Hey, maybe I do like a composition book.  Maybe what ruined it was that Target started carrying Green Room notebooks and I was hooked by the subtle dotted lines.

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Breakfast with Lynda Berry

Now, everyone keeps a bullet journal.

Or a planner.

Enters a challenge on Instagram.

Takes up calligraphy.

Never doodles in the margins.

Only around the top of the page or just enough next to the amount of water you drank that day.

Copies doodles from pages of Pinterest flower doodles.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

Fro, Age four, sleeping on my (note)book.

I’m not making fun of these people because I am one.  I totally google font alphabets and try to write like those talented enough to create them.  I practice fonts and get disappointed when the pen smudges, or I mess up the a in the second word, three letters in and I have to turn the page and start over.

My small human heart is full of unfinished notebooks.

And then I read Lynda Berry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.

Image from Open Culture (on Lynda Berry’s book)

In the way that I’m constantly trying to get my students to view the world in a thousand different ways, letting go of their bias (and mine) and being thoughtful global citizens, so is Lynda Berry in syllabus.  It is kind of a working syllabus for her art class that blends memory, drawing, and writing as one immovable force and that we use all three when dealing with any creative juncture.  She teaches students to to go back to childhood before our inner egos took over the page.  She draws robots, Star Wars characters, monkeys with bandanas, smoking skulls, miniatures who talk, shouting angels, all over the pages of these notes in a composition book that she then leads and leaves with her students.  She taught me that we draw the best, and the most clear, and we write the best, and the most clear, when we are forgetting completely that we are drawing or writing.  She has students draw spirals while they think about something the need to remember or watch a film.

Image from chapmancommunityoutreach.wordpress.com

Truly, she is my bow-down queen of doodling. Doodle without thinking about it.  If it ends up as a toucan in a dress with flower petal hands, let her grow.  She says we don’t know what’s there until it appears fully on the page. And that the art doesn’t care whether we’ve assigned it a title like “ugly” because it doesn’t know, it just keeps on flexing. (I wish humans could take a notion from art, brush it off, literally and figuratively).

I love how she seamlessly blends the mind with the art. She has students memorize Emily Dickinson poems, watch films on the sides of the brain, draw people using only simple shapes.  I think this is a great book on philosophy, on art, and it’s a fabulous book to use in the Language Arts classroom.  That is the debate though, isn’t it, what part of English (study) is language and what part art? Are they equal? What would that pie chart look like?

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

My favorite image because I feel like Lynda Berry and I are two of a kind.

Lynda Berry also has a quirky little Tumblr for this class (that she currently still teachers) called The Near Sighted Monkey.  I love all the exercises for writing and drawing on here.  I plan to doodle my syllabus this year for my class.  Anyone truly interested in their own art should read this book.  It’s a book on quieting that inner critic, and returning to childhood where everything you drew, that mass of green circles, turned magically into a spinning bird before the eyes of the beholder.

Ps. the pages are chaotic and the might make you near-sighted, but it’s worth reading every little smidgen of the page.