Nobody Warned Me.

30091914Halfway through this book, I tweeted about the nightmares it was causing me.  And I’m not talking about Stephen King ghosts or monsters, but live human cruelty.  They weren’t dreams like others I have had, revolving staircases, or sudden drops into homes I knew, but had been subtly changed by my dream space.  These dreams were as visceral as the words on the page.  I felt the steel copper bullet – plunge –  slow motion into my rib cage.  Each bone flex forth and open like a cracked fence post.  When I woke up each morning, I had stones in my belly, and gnarls in my gut.  This story uprooted me.

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Photo from The Japan Times

And I wasn’t warned, so I’m warning all of you.  This story conveyed the human capacity for cruelty so well and so often that I almost couldn’t finish it.  While I believe it’s a story that needs to be told and a history that should not remain hidden, I want to scrape at the pieces of it that stayed in my mind for days afterwards.  For a full three pages, Han Kang describes some of the Gwangju boys’ torture, the crisp sizzle of a cigarette to an eye.  If you winced at that sentence, then I can’t recommend this book for you.  It caused me physical pain to read.

(And I know some of you will roll your eyes and say that this is nothing to the physical pain that the people of Gwangju felt resisting and standing up to their traitorous government, but feelings are allowed to be felt).

Today, Amnesty International reported hangings of over 13,000 in Damascus.  These hangings have been done secretly after victims are tried for under three minutes in a basement after being told they are being transported elsehwhere.  We sit around arguing on Twitter over what’s fake news, or how many alternative facts will be spun in the administration currently in office, and in Damascus, Syrians are being targeted and wiped out by the thousands in Civil War.  Until this moment, no news of these hangings had been released.  This is probably not the fault of our news media, but the fact that this is happening in our modern world – after the Holocaust, after Cambodia, after Tinneman Square and now after the Gwangju uprising, maybe we need to be a little more “woke.”

I listened to this story on NPR having just finished Human Acts.  I had been contemplating the number of stars I could give a book that I was hesitant to recommend, that I was angry no one had warned me about (most reviewers just said, “it has beautiful writing”) and disgusted with the bottom dark of human capacity put into elegant words on the pages of Human Acts by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith).

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Screenshot from Amnesty International Report

No where in my life have I had to contemplate the snap of a rope bruising and twisting my pale neck. Never the butt of a gun.  Never a protest that could end in the spray of shrapnel.  Comparing one’s life to another never makes anything easier, but I have been both lucky to be who I am, where I am, and lucky to read a book that makes me understand that luck is a physical phenomenon and not just a mental/emotional privilege.  I can only speak for myself, but all I really wanted to do in hearing that report was spit it out so it couldn’t become a part of me, of my existence.

“Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke.  Something that, until then, I hadn’t even realized was there” (202).

In the last chapter of this novel, the author becomes a character.  She describes her journey seeking out information on the massacre itself, but also on the family written throughout.  She is indirectly related to this family.  They lived in the house she moved out of at a young age, and they lost a brother to the Gwangju uprising while living there.  The narrator talks about her nightmares while researching the novel.  I know why.  I experienced nightmares as well.  I texted my best friend, and Korean scholar, Seth and asked him about what was told to him about this while he was in South Korea.  His first response when I began describing the book was “they don’t tell tourists those stories.”

I wonder how many stories are left dark in the world.  How many shoved into corners, buried against one another, corked.  This is no longer one of those cave stories, this mosaic novel of different voices interwoven.  It is really a connection of short stories, some more difficult than others to get through.  I believe Han Kang did exactly what she set out to do, make it so no one can desecrate these memories again.

“Please, write your book so that no one will ever be able to desecrate my brother’s memory again” (214).

In the beginning, I found hope in the short anecdote about the chalk erasers and board spray from middle school between the loving sister and brother in the novel.  I hung onto that for the rest of the novel because there isn’t much redeeming about the human spirit here.  This is a novel that very much lacks the bud of hope.  It doesn’t make it less true, it just, for me, makes it more sad.  If we believed the world ended like this, I don’t think any of us would continue letting it fester.

“Isn’t he your friend, aren’t you a human being” (43).

Readathons: DiverseAThon

I suck at readathons.  I think I read harder when no one is making it a “thing” and it’s just something I know I need to do for my own mental well-being.  However, there are a few readathons that represent matters close to my human bean spirit.

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Twitter Chats: DiverseAThon

DiverseAThon is one of those very readathons. It is a readathon for celebrating diverse literature; diverse authors, diverse places, and diverse histories.  Kelly’s Rambles actually introduced me to it from her blog.  DiverseAThon has its own Twitter handle and hashtag.  They’re actually hosting a Twitter Chat tonight at 8 pm for anyone interested and they will do one everyday for the entirety of the week long readathon.  It’s always good to chat with like-minded people, especially if you’re like me and you strongly prefer spending your Sundays only talking to your animals.  My week actually consists of the nagging thought, “Is it Sunday yet?” This is the life of the homebody.

 

c2tobw-uqaipsopBecause they’re social media savvy and know that bookworms prefer various social media tools, there are Instagram prompts as well.  I won’t be participating in these, but I will gladly like all of your pictures if you choose to. All of this is up for grabs on the twitter account.

I believe whole-heartedly in supporting diverse literature.  This all stemmed from being in the classroom and realizing that there were so few books with stories that mirrored what my students went through without turning them into stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs.  I’ve said many times on this blog that I believe we need books that are windows and books that are mirrors.  Literature that we can see ourselves in is just as important as literature that transports us to new cultures and new ideas, when both of these types merge and we find ourselves at the precipice of empathy, that is just a gift.

I found that my students had obsessively read The Bluford series.  Each book was chapped and cracked open, with wrinkles of age and smudges from chip fingers holding tightly to the stories.  My students would walk to the library afterschool to get to these boxed books.  Of course I had to read them.  What I found, with fear, is that my students couldn’t find much outside of the Bluford Series.  It was its own beautiful niche, but knowing that hurts.  Where are the other books that represent my students? As the faces looking back at me in my classroom became more and more diverse (I moved to an area very close to a Lumbee Reservation), I had to search that much deeper through the glossed hardbacks in the library for books that not only reflected their stories, but wrote them thoughtfully and truthfully.  Now, Tweeters and book people like Debbie Reese, Roxanne Gay, Diverse Books, and Angie Manfredi keep me clued into literature today that is not only diverse, but accurate, meditative, and compassionate to the characters and stories within.

None of this stops because I’m out of the classroom.  I still worry that students get to the high school classroom having only read dead-white-male authors.  I still think about how often I turned to Patricia Smith when the textbooks were emptied of what I called in the classroom “literature in bubbles.”  Where all characters were able-bodied, straight, and assumed to be white.  (I’m still a little peeved with JK Rowling for just announcing one day that Dumbledore was gay without actually writing that into the literature).  I even taught world literature and was fascinated with the very few tribal stories, and aboriginal stories contained in the textbooks.  A lot of the beginning stories came from The Bible actually. Meh. In fact, I’m not sure there was one aboriginal story in the newest textbook in our book room. By year two, I had decided not to teach from the textbook at all (this involved killing a lot of trees, I’m sorry nature, until I could prove to my principal that I needed more technology).

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Pie Graph from The Rumpus / Roxanne Gay

In 2012, Roxanne Gay wrote in The Rumpus that 90% of the authors reviewed in the NY Times are white.  (There’s a pie graph in the article if you’re too lazy to actually read it).  The Guardian recently wrote that the publishing industry is dominated by white females, which definitely shows in the books published recently.  FiveThirtyEight wrote about children’s books being “still very white” and in 2015 Sunili Govinnage wrote about reading books only by minority authors for a year and found, “just how white our reading world really is.”  Govinnage gives a list of books read, if you’re interested in reading Diverse Books during the challenge, or making it a focus for this year which I highly recommend.  Vida Count has been giving us data for multiple years now on the publishing industry and its diversity. See 2015 here and look at the trends from years prior.

While I don’t think dedicating just a week of the 52 you have in a year to diverse literature is enough, I do believe it’s a start if you read mostly white-washed literature.  And I don’t mean “diverse” to only categorize race, but race, gender, sexuality, illnesses, disabilities, geography, landscape, and histories.  (I really want to put etc, but I almost feel like that’s really inconsiderate). I need to do better at reading books with characters that have different sexualities than my own.  I think I will make that a goal of this year.  Actually at the women’s march yesterday I had to explain a poster to my best friend that read, “Support all of your sisters, not just your cisters.”  Without diverse literature, I would never be able to understand and empathize with that sign.

If you’re considering participating and you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of some of my favorite diverse authors, and diverse character choices.  I would love to chat with you about any of these.

 

I am going to read the following few books during this DIVERSEATHON, particularly:

I honestly can’t believe I haven’t read In the Time of Butterflies yet, but I just haven’t.  Comment below if you have some FABULOUS recommendations of diverse books or ways you support diverse and amazing authors. I look forward to hearing about your diverse reads in the Diversathon.  Follow the readathon on Twitter, Instagram and read along with me. YAY! Let’s get “he who shall not be named” out of Simon and Schuster and get their diverse and deserving authors promoted. This is also a way to continue what you started at the Women’s March by reading and advocating for women of color, and women of differing sexualities. Make sure you post what you’re reading and write about the why. When people know you’re why, they’re more likely to invest.

No Goodreads Goal? BIG PROBLEM.

I get jealous sometimes of the people who can just steam through YA fiction all year, blog every two days, and create this center of magic.

I am not that person.

And this year without a Goodreads goal, I was even more of a flailer. This is me December of last year:

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See how I’m SO not held down that my hair is blowing straight in the wind?

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Knock Knock even made a fancy pro/con list.

I’ll take Flounder-er’s throughout history for 200, Alex. Because that’s what I was this year.  Unlike Book Stacks Amber, I didn’t just lower my goal, I got rid of that sucker altogether for a year. I took the advice of countless blogging sages who have come before me like Jessica Pryde at Book Riot and Broke By Books.  Surlymuse got into my head a little bit too and like any good working gal, I made a pro / con list. Countless ex-boyfriends have been through this routine and someone could have just saved me if they said, “If you have to even write pro / con about a boy on a piece of notebook paper, he’s not worth your time.” However, I take the Ben Stiller approach (in Along Came Polly) and like to know exactly what I’m getting into, with both books and boys.

The list had more cons because I wanted it to and so I didn’t write in a goal this year. Surlymuse called the way Goodreads tracks books is, “some kind of perverse commodity” and I felt that too.  For too long, I had avoided books over five-hundred pages because I wouldn’t keep up with my Goodreads goal in the long run. And Goodreads is such a gem for telling you how far behind you are every year.  In 2015, I got seven books behind and felt like I was turning circles at sea. I turned to short children’s books to fill the gap, or poetry chapbooks, or even just those one-off story collections from Vintage American that Goodreads totally counts as a full book.  I’m also a Goodreads librarian so I can add those short, sad, totally not books to Goodreads as if they were.

Is this abusing my power or are there people like me out there?

Whatever short, probably not as fulfilling as long drawn-out works, I could find would be on the list. They just fit so well into my Goodreads goal catchup list. It’s worth it if you can just maintain the goal.

The goal would say, “How could you only read three books in September when you know you must read five to even be in the running?” WHERE IS YOUR MOTIVATION, SOLDIER.

And I gave that all up.

blog250113-michelleAnd what happened was sort of disastrous. Without a goal, I was flying solo. I was a Beyonce without Destiny’s Child, at least I felt that way in the beginning, until I was Michelle without Destiny’s Child.

But now I have the gift of looking back on my reading this year and it is a sad, sad state of affairs.  I’m not even sure I can do a Top 10 books list (or 5 if you’re stingy) because I read so few books, that were so random, that I can’t even equate them within the same lists. There are months under my “Read in 2016” where I had to write something like “I did not read a single book this month (because I’m a heathen).” That was a statement written in fear of leaving a whole month blank.

ywmqvkfsMostly, I can sum up my reading this year in one statement: I read what I had to teach to my AP Literature kids. Which, thank goodness for my own choosing, wasn’t just the Western Canon. Towards the end of the year, I hit up some #diversebooks hashtags on Twitter and found that I had actually read a lot of literature, and nonfiction about the African American experience. I think subconsciously as an educator, and consciously as a human, I wanted to be both less ignorant and more thoughtful. My best friend is a mixed white and black man and I wanted to really understand when he told me to “use my privilege.” I needed to understand my current world a little bit better, but … I think I would have still done that with a Goodreads Challenge. I think I would have done more of it and been better at it actually.

Instead, this year, I read a lot of half books. If you asked me how many books I didn’t finish, but I got to a juicy part, I could tell you it’s over one hundred.  There were too many book piles on the floor next to my bed, in the currently reading bookshelf, the to be read bookshelf, and the bookshelf in the home library.  Plus, I took frequent trips to the library and we live within two miles of a used bookstore.  It’s all unhealthy actually.  So, this all led me to finishing hardly anything.  I was a snacker of books. I grazed and got too full and moved on before even the finale of anything. If I read the whole thing it’s because I had to or I was drawn to.

22822858I was flailing. I still am flailing. I started This Little Life and talked to my friend Sage about reading it together and then after one Book List with the first book of calamity leek as an undiscovered gem, I immediately switched back to reading that. I haven’t touched it since the plane to Iceland. I’ll pick it up like no time has passed like I’ve done all stinking year.

So for the sake of sanity, and for an anchor, I’m going back to the Goodreads Challenge this year. I’m just giving in and admitting that as a Capricorn gone Sagittarius, sticking to Capricorn (Thanks, NASA), I need a goal to keep me driving, but to also keep me on the damn road.  No tangents, no veering, no “OU, Squirrel” moments for my reading schedule next year. I will be pushed once again by the man, that is Amazon Goodreads.

What are ya’ll’s plans for the Goodreads goals?

(I just wanted to use ya’ll’s in a sentence … twice).  Will you keep them and be held down or will you let go and float in space and see what happens to your reading happens.   I would love to hear from you (no, seriously, lack of comments gives me anxiety).

If you need some more goals, check out this year’s reading challenge: Book Better

There’s a Goodreads group: Book Better and a Twitter: #bookbetter2017. Details on the Book Better Challenge Page.

When Discussing Diverse Books: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

twitter1Guys, Twitter is kind of a terrifying, brilliant, and secret place.  Sometimes, I sit there wondering if this is the only place most people have a voice, even journalists in today’s political and economical climate. In just the ten days where I transitioned from a full-on teacher Twitter account to one for bookish and Cassie things I’ve watched the following: people harassed for days over one ill-worded (or even just ill-timed) tweet.  Authors berated for being pro-Trump. I’ll be honest, in my personal life, I had no clue that Trump would be elected because I had literally not one single person in my circles that would ever vote for that man.  Like last female on the planet shiz. However, I’ve been a little horrified.

Here are the things I know:

*People lash out because of their collective memory on injustice that their background (whatever that may be) has faced due to abuse, bigotry and ignorance across time and space.

shame-gif-1465520937*While shame and guilt are very real feelings, sometimes that isn’t the way that sways people to  see another side. Particularly when you’re going all Game of Thrones walk of shame on them.  Getting a posse of others like you to gang up on this Twitter person and tweet abuse and harassment towards them probably only makes them believe further in their own bigotry.

*We do not have enough diversity in books to justify quieting any voice that speaks out for diversity in books.

*Some of the comments on writing diverse books really rub me the wrong way.  Things like, “I don’t think white people should write about other races at all, keep your mediocre hands off of that literature.”  With the same person tweeting things earlier in the day like, “if your world in your book is full of only white characters then your book is in a bubble that doesn’t exist.” (That last one I definitely agree with, but both of these tweets cannot exist in the same book).

All of this has made me do some serious soul searching.

homegoing_custom-09de3d52d3ab0cf5400e68fb358d53da9c78afe6-s400-c85I pride myself on reading diverse books. A lot of the times because I want to learn, but more importantly because I want to listen.  In fact, I listed my favorite authors out for a student the other day and every single one was a woman + Junot Diaz. I also try really hard to not just read bestsellers (or books graciously and eloquently thrown down our throats by the NY Times Best Seller’s List or Kirkus Reviews).  I’m not saying this because I have something to prove in my small corner of the internet. On the contrary, it’s because I’m about to review the book Homegoing by 27-year-old Yaa Gyasi from a white female perspective, probably really close to what the world has come to know as white feminist perspective.

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If I ever sound like this, CALL ME OUT. 

See the following for a clearer definition of white feminism: Tilda Swinton’s emails, Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift and her adult cheer squad, and all of the Huffington Post tags.

I’m owning it because I have to in order to write about diverse literature.  In every solid academic research paper, the author must spell out their limitations, and this one is mine. I come from a place of white feminist baggage. That’s what I’m carrying to your table, and what I’ll try to leave behind as I grow in perspective and curiosity.


I’m not going to lie, halfway through this book I tweeted the following:

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I feel bad for this tweet. It sucks. No one liked it, and they shouldn’t have. (And I actually think I got the wrong publisher too, to top it off. Sorry, Alfred A. Knopf).  At the 48% mark  (thanks, Kindle for always making me feel great about my reading speed) I just didn’t get it.  I didn’t get the magic of what Gyasi was doing here.  Twisting two family trees, coppicing.

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I’m obsessed with the UK cover. 

Now there were times in the novel when I got lost. When I left it for two days and came back to the middle telling of a new character’s story and I would have to read a few pages to know where we stood in time and place, but taking two families from African diaspora all the way through the millennium is a feat that I’ve never seen before in literature. And for that I will forever be in awe of Gyasi’s breakthrough in an art that doesn’t always adapt easy to change.  Maybe this is why so many avid readers had troubles with this book though.

The plot did move very slowly and although we knew the person intimately who came before the character we would read about next, I’m not sure the connection was enough to sustain a reader who needed action.  Akua brought the action, so did H and Ness, but characters with gritty stories came at strange moments.  A reader on Twitter said he believed the book should have been split into three parts and not two.  He never responded to me when I asked where he would have broken the third part, but it did have me curious.  If we read this book and immediately have questions about structure, does that mean that Gyasi didn’t perfect her rhythm here?

5e0190c717c99df3c8a4b610e72b19c1I’m not sure how I feel. This multigenerational history of the world through the eyes of African American families moved me almost to tears at times, but there were other times when the characters just weren’t real enough for me, and these moments alternated regularly.  The raw moments, in Ghana, Willie in Harlem, H imprisoned and sold into mining, and “the Crazy Woman” all made for characters that “lived inside me” as Marjorie learns from her teacher in one of the final chapters.  But other characters didn’t come alive until I knew what they bred or brought into the world in later chapters. I almost needed their children to open my heart towards them.  That came a little frustrating when I just wanted to continue with one of the family lines, but had to read the alternating. I also had to look at the family tree a lot, which made reading on a Kindle difficult.

(Still, thank you so much for the arc, Alfred A. Knopf).

I do understand that to span 300 years in 300 pages is not an easy task, and there’s very few moments to take a breath, but I still sit here not one hundred percent sold. One of the things I did love was all the beautiful, beautiful language moments.

“That night, lying next to Edward in his room, Yaw listened as his best friend told him that he had explained to the girl that you could not inherit a scar. Now, nearing his fiftieth birthday, Yaw no longer knew if he believed this was true.”

And all of the commentary on society that was subtle but powerful:

“The need to call this thing “good” and this thing “bad,” this thing “white” and this thing “black,” was an impulse that Effie did not understand.  In her village, everything was everything.  Everything bore the weight of everything else.”

“That I should live to hear my own daughter speak like this.  You want to know what weakness is? Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you.  Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

“This is the problem of history.  We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves.  We must rely upon the words of others.”

“Forgiveness was an act done after the fact, a piece of the bad deed’s future.  And, if you point the people’s eye to the future, they might not see what is being done to hurt them in the present.”

And my personal favorite:

“She stopped walking.  For all they knew, they were standing on top of what used to be a coal mine, a grave for all the black convicts who had been conscripted to work there.  It was one thing to research something, another thing entirely to have lived it.  To have felt it.  How could he explain to Marjorie that what he wanted to capture with his project was the feeling of time, of having been a part of something that stretched so far back, was so impossibly large, that it was easy to forget that she, and he, and everyone else, existed in it, not apart of it, but inside of it.”

I feel like I’ve been a little hard on this book because it is truly a literary first for me.  I recommend it to everyone who needs diverse literature, who wants to support a debut author, and who is interested in structuring writing in new and profound ways for their readers.

The List: Bookish Edition

If you’ve been following for a while you know that every year I do a Bookish Christmas List.  This year, I’m a tad late, but for all of your procrastinating shoppers, I have the list for all the book lovers, cat ladies, school teachers, and hipsters in your life.

For the Gilmore Girl in all of us:

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  1. “Gilmore Girls Helvetica” T-Shirt (multiple colors) | $31.95 @ Red Bubble
  2. “Mama Kim” Sticker | $2.40 (buy 6, get 50% off) @ Red Bubble
  3. Rory Enamel Lapel Pin | $13.00 @sweetandlovely
  4. Luke’s Mug Vinyl Logo Decal | $18.00 @ The Party Palette
  5. The Rory Reading List | $19.47 @ Neighbourly Love

For those Witty (W)itches in Our Life:

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  1. Okay Ladies, Now Let’s Get Information T-Shirt (multiple colors) | $27.65 @ Red Bubble
  2. Be Pretty Driftwood | $34.00 @ Peacelovedriftwood  on Etsy
  3. Ceramic Coffee Mug with Quote | $13.95+ @ Vitazi Designs on Etsy
  4. Olde Book Messenger Bag | $34.99 @ Think Geek
  5. Olde Book Pillow Cases | $14.99 @ Think Geek
  6. Banned Book Match Set | $8 @ Tiger Tree (How very Fahrenheit 451 of them, har har).
  7. Nancy Drew Pillows (these are my fav) | $24 @ The Sleuth Shop
  8. Internet Grammar Is Ruining Everything | $16+ @ Kathy Weller Art on Etsy
  9. Bibliophile Girl Scout Patch | $7 @ Storied Threads on Etsy

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  1. Lit Cap | $2.40 @ Red Bubble
  2. 52 Lists for Happiness | $16.99 @ Modclot
  3. Narnia Coloring Book | $15.99 @ Think Geek
  4. Disney Princesses: a Magical Pop-Up World | $65 @ Amazon by Matthew Reinhart
  5. Diagonal Alley Coat | $139.99 @ Modcloth

For the Editor in All of Us (that we want to murder):

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  1. Talks with the Editor Letterpress | $15 @ RD1Vintage on Etsy
  2. Books & Eyeglasses Earrings | $20 @ Uncommon Goods
  3. Whom T-Shirt | $25 @ GrammaticalArt on Etsy
  4. Seven Year Pen | $8.95 @ Seltzer Goods (they even have one dedicated to cat ladies.  CALLING ALL OF YOUUUUUU).
  5. Vintage Oak Desk Set | $32 @ InglenookMarket on Etsy
  6. Hand Engraved Compass Necklaces | $140 @ Uncommon Goods

Feministing:

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  1. Feminist Enamel Pin | $10 @ Stationerybicycles on Etsy
  2. Working Women: The New Pinup Collection | $12.95 @ Chronicle Books
  3. Shattered Glass Ceiling Necklace | $68 @ Uncommon Goods
  4. Parks & Rec Pawnee Poste | $11.99+ @ Genuine Design Co on Etsy
  5. The Future is Female T-Shirt | $14.90+ @ DesignDepot123
  6. Frida Kahlo Paper Dolls | $9.95 @ Chronicle Books

Teachers of all Kinds:

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  1. Staple Free Staplers | $16 (set of two) @ Uncommon Goods
  2. Scratch Map | $26-$40 @ Uncommon Goods
  3. Blue Book Personalized Pillow | $36 @ Uncommon Goods
  4. Microbiology Wax Seal | $29.95 @ CognitiveSurplus on Etsy
  5. Sometimes I Go Off on a Tangent T-Shirt | $25+ @Boredwalk on Etsy
  6. Moon Phases Notebook | $5.14 @Newtonandtheapple on Etsy

And Dudes:

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  1. Tesla Circuit Building Kit | $100 @ Uncommon Goods
  2. 3d Printed Bowtie | $32.70 @ 3different on Etsy
  3. Iron Coin of the Faceless Man | $14 @ ShirePostMint on Etsy
  4. The Hydra Smart Bottle | $59.99 @ Think Geek
  5. Build on Brick Mug | $2.99-11.99 @ Think Geek
  6. Medieval Knight Hoodie | $49.99 @ Think Geek

I know it’s pretty close to Christmas and you’ll need expedited shipping.  I hope I made it a little easier on ya for finding your bibliopiles the best presents.

I’m ready to make the argument: Beyonce loves Beloved.

I want to construct the theory that Beyonce was directly referencing Beloved, the book by Toni Morrison and the haunting character reincarnated in the novel with her video “Formation.”

Reasons for these beliefs are as follows:

  • Cover art of Beloved hand-in-hand with stills from Beyonce’s video for “Formation.”

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  • Beloved (the character) comes from the water, a symbol of “New Life” and purity. Beyonce sinks into the water as a comment on the government’s reaction (and the people of America, we’re all complicit) to New Orleans after Katrina.  But also, she makes a call to justice and a call to new perspective on race relations in America, particularly with white police officers and black men.
  • School Teacher, who comes for Sethe in the book, could be seen as the police in Beyonce’s video.
  • Both texts reference “baby hair.”  “Formation”: I like my baby heir, with baby hair and afros. Beloved: “Instead she gazed at Sethe with sleepy eyes. Poorly fed, thought Sethe, and younger than her clothes suggested–good lace at the throat, and a rich woman’s hat. Her skin was flawless except for three vertical scratches on her forehead so fine and thin they seemed at first like hair, baby hair before it bloomed and roped into the masses of black yarn under her hat…her feet were like her hands, soft and new” (62).
  • Beyonce seems “haunted” in the scene at the plantation house where she wears all black and is surrounded by men in black suits.  She keeps bobbing her head up and down to the beat in a ghostly fashion.  Beloved is a ghost that haunts the house and is known as “crawling-already.” Then, returns from the grave.  A reincarnation much like the rising up of New Orleans after Katrina — on its own mind you — because our government sucks sometimes.
  • Sethe doesn’t really understand her own history, but her husband Halle comes from Baby Suggs who is well-known as a priestess in the community.  Beyonce references her heritage several times in the story.  While Sethe doesn’t know her heritage, Beloved comes back from the dead to honor her mother, her heritage.
  • Beyonce claims to “twirl on the haters.”  It can be argued that Sethe, by slitting the throat of her daughter, “twirled on” School Teacher who thought that he could take Sethe and all her children in as runaway slaves.
  • In the scene below, Beyonce acts as a “Mrs. Garner” of high class woman of the South who gave Sethe the only thing she ever truly owned, diamond earrings.

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  • Beyonce repeats “I Slay,” while Sethe literally slays her child by slitting her throat in a hurried effort to save her from slavery and School Teacher.
  • Both women also take great pride in their children, Sethe to the point of saving them by murdering them and Beyonce by having her daughter dance in her highly-acclaimed music video.
  • Beyonce says at the end of the song, “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation,” while Sethe is the talk of the town after her behavior with School Teacher and Baby Suggs in front of her sons and family.
  • Red Lobster is where Beyonce takes her man, letting him also take her chopper to the mall for some j’s while Sethe is completely supportive of Paul D in the novel.  To the point that she supports him before he can get back to work and sleeps with him regularly.
  • The men in the background of the actual song also sound an awful lot like Paul D and his “baby, baby, baby,” neediness. He even calls Beloved’s sexuality her “shine,” while today we have “glo up” (not mentioned in Beyonce’s video, but just a correlation).
  • At the end of Beyonce’s video there is a congregation worshipping at church.  This could be a direct reference to Baby Sugg’s forest homily’s in Beloved.  Baby Suggs manages to conjure the spirit for the people of her community the same way the spirit finds its way into Beyonce’s video.

There you have it. As much argument as I can puzzle together for Beyonce making a direct connection to Beloved by Toni Morrison.  If so, those are some powerful allusions, if not, it’s fun to try to prove it.

Update:

*Here’s an article on what to read after watching “Lemonade.”

*Also, the speaking intro of “Hold Up” is basically Beloved, yet again where Beyonce says things like, “Tried to be soft, prettier, less … awake.  Fasted for 60 days. Wore white. Abstained from mirrors. Abstained from sex. Slowly did not speak another word. In that time, my hair I grow past my ankles. I slept on a mat on a floor. I swallowed a sword. I levitated. I went to the basement. Confessed my sins and was baptized in a river. Got on my knees and said amen and said I mean. I whipped my own back…” This is eerily similar to Beloved by Toni Morrison. Check out the stills from the video:

Milk also commented on how much Toni Morrison influenced Beyonce even commenting that “Lemonade is like seeing her words come to life.”

Vox too.  Man, I had no idea people thought this.

Winter is Coming | Iceland Part 1

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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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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.

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” /

 

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.

Once Again, Opinions Needed:

Preface: I’m the English teacher who doesn’t teach novels.  I have many reasons for this, but here are the facts that I know to be true.  Most students, unless they major in some type of Literature or English degree, are not going to be expected to read many novels after high school.  Even as adults, we read our news from Twitter, we get The Skimm in our email, and we read short stories if everyone is talking about their brilliance.  Some people eat poetry, some people never see a poem unless it’s plastered on a street light at their height level. I find that I can get a lot more from my students, in a student-centered room, when I teach smaller texts. Granted, this makes it impossible to rely on the novel as a backbone and I’m constantly having to reinvent the wheel, but I don’t mind.  I’m anything but a lazy educator.

This year, I’m facing the great Advanced Placement Literature course.  This course scares me for two reasons, it gives my students college credit so it desperately needs to be on a college level and part of the exam is literally a list of novels that the students must use in order to prove a point in an essay.  They can use two of these novels in most cases.  This means that they must have, at some point, read at least two novels on this list of random.  It changes every year.  There are a few constants (there’s always at least two Shakespeare plays), but mostly the books are classics from the white man’s canon.

To sum up: this whole course goes against some fundamental beliefs I have as an educator AND I believe that it needs a SERIOUS update in order to reflect what colleges are doing with English majors, or just English 101 courses.  Don’t get me started on the problems I’ve heard from friends about English 101.  My professor had a jungle theme…literally. Everything we read was jungle based.

Here’s how I want to WRASTLE this gator. I have a list of “must-reads,” not really any classics and then I have some options.  I need your help and your votes on which should be read and discussed and applied to the world at large in this course.

Here are my MUST-READS

  1. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  2. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (this might be an “other option” but I’m feeling good about it at the moment).
  3. Hamlet – Shakespeare

Here are my OTHER OPTIONS (I will be using excerpts from some of these or can use the whole book if my arguments for it are good enough).

  1. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  2. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  3. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safron Foer
  4. The Woman Warrior – Maxine Hong Kingston
  5. No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
  6. Atonement – Ian McEwan
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  9. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Addams
  10. Something by Louise Erdrich
  11. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  12. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
  13. Something by Hunter S. Thompson
  14. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  15. Absolom, Absolom – William Faulkner

Please, please, please let me know which of these you would fight for and why.  Some of them I have to read, or reread.  I’m currently reading In Cold Blood and then I’ll take on Absolom, Absolom.  If you know any other books that I don’t have listed that I should, OR there are books that you’re like “ABSOLUTELY, NO, NO, NO!” I need that advice too.