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).

Raise Your Hand if You Need the Last Word.

montoya“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Over lunch the other day, a few of my girlfriends and I mused over how we grew up on The Princess Bride.  I mean literally like an after school snack. A drug of choice for hip 90s girls who knew we’d grow up and really want to be more like Robin Wright on House of Cards, but for a little while, we could love Wesley and his sexy bandit costume.  There were two movies that I obsessively watched as a child, Grease and Princess Bride.  I feel like between these two movies PLUS Clarissa Explains It All, I can be discovered.  This may or may not be true for most girls, we shall see in the comments section, but I think a lot of girls found themselves binge-watching The Princess Bride because it wasn’t your normal “princess story.”  Sure, she had to be saved several times from Humperdinck, but Princess Buttercup was no pansy.  What I love most about this movie is that it convinced me that there’s such a thing as a final word.

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I have sought that final word to the point of damage a few times.  I’ll argue until the height of high-pitched yelling.  There’s a moment when I say something despicable that I know can’t be taken back, but I still release it into the world like it’s a clattering truth.  I never remove myself from arguments.  I have a hard time walking away.  And even when someone is trying to give me the hint that there’s no place for me in their life, I pursue them until the ache grows softer and I, too, can let go.

It’s a downfall for sure.  I’m no hero.

shrill-lindy-west-magnumBut with that all said, I think Lindy West’s first book is doing just what I’ve done my whole life, just what Inigo Montoya does with every man who even narrowly looks like his father’s killer.  It’s what a lot of feminists do when they realize that maybe they’re being heard (the sound) but they’re not being listened to (the meaning).  They keep going. Shrill, West’s memoir really encapsulates this idea that silence isn’t golden, it’s boxy and the only way out of it, is to keep on talking.

hqdefaultI knew this book was going to pack a punch when in the beginning she lists out every “Fat Female Role Model” that existed for her as a child.  Characters like the Queen of Hearts, Mrs. Trunchbull, Lady Cluck, Mrs. Piggy, and Ursula were the most prominent according to my notebook. I listened to this on audiobook, so I had to pause to write down little tidbits I wanted to remember forever.  In Chapter 2, she says, “There is not a thin woman inside me awaiting excavation.  I am one piece.”  With this quote I began to realize that we were going to witness every bit of Lindy West, whether she thought it appropriate to show or not, she was nothing but transparent and relatable for the entire book.

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This image is from Lindy West’s article in Jezebel “How to Make a Rape Joke”

(If you don’t know who Lindy West is, she came for Tosh.0 in Jezebel with a piece called “How to Make a Rape Joke.” And she rocks).  She has been trashed by internet trolls, even one impersonating her deceased father, and she married a man who in her words is “conventionally attractive” who plays the trumpet.  The reason why I say her book is a final word of sorts is that it gives all of the baggage (and I don’t mean this as a negative) to the stories that everyone else construed about her.  These stories created by trolls, comedy show hosts, feminist bloggers, newspapers and magazines, and her blog were in some ways all fabricated.  While I blog my life blood into everything I write at Books & Bowels and Almost an Independent Clause, that doesn’t mean I owe every single one of my followers a pound of flesh.

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Internet Troll image from Kotaku

But in the eyes of the public, Lindy West did.  She was trolled, tattered, and left on the defense over really important issues like fat shaming, rape jokes, abortions, periods, and privilege.  At one point, during the comedy chapters, she says something like, I can easily name 20 white male comics, but … “Name 20 female comics.  Name 20 black comics.  Name 20 gay comics.”  Early in the book, she writes so unabashedly about her abortion when she was dating a guy that she loved, but didn’t quite like very much, that I heard every woman who walked the women’s march sigh in relief.  It wasn’t some grotesque tale like the biblical posters of “baby waste” will have you think, it was a real woman’s life trial, true to each hard step.  She even at this point in her life (what I would argue is probably a low point for some women) thought about her privilege, about the way it was so easy for the owner of the Abortion Clinic to let her pay later.

“Privilege means it’s easy for white women to do each other favors.”

I’m not going to lie, I found the chapters rehashing her experience of Tosh.0 kind of boring, but I knew they needed to be said.  I’m not going to put words in Lindy West’s mouth (like everyone else has done before me), but I get the need to have one last say, to make sure people understand your point, to make one even when all corners are trying to silence you. For me, what she said had value, is valuable, and should be repeated even if the “shrill” is deafening.  Especially in today’s political climate.

“We live in a culture that actively tries to shrink the definition of sexual assault.  That casts stalking behaviors as romance.  Blames the victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhood…Convicts in less than 5% of allegations that go to trial” (Chapter 13).

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Lindy West, Fierce AF at KUOW.org

I loved this book because it didn’t ask for anything.  You know how sometimes you read memoirs and you can feel that the writer is asking for pity, or asking for understanding, or even just asking for love and adoration? This wasn’t like that.  This was just a girl, standing in front of a really bookish crowd (with a pack of Lena Dunham’s behind her) telling a few truths about life.  She wasn’t asking for you to understand why your fat joke is sorry, why rape jokes aren’t funny in any contexts, why free speech isn’t necessarily free, or why feminist voices matter, she was just telling you an experience in a life of a human being.

If we could find more writers that do this, our world might open up a little.  Internet trolls might apologize more and Lindy West may have a twitter full of quips that crack a girl up while she’s at a boring desk job.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but if Lindy West keeps publishing, we just might. I liked Slate’s review here.

Because Everyone is Reading Rebecca Solnit.

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This is totes me on a day when I just couldn’t take anymore news.

I’ve crowned this year, “Year of Essays.”  And while I’d also really like to dedicate some time to the Outlander series and the free audiobooks I got when I cheated the system and got Audible for only as long as it took me to choose four free books — I may have stolen BJ’s too — approximately four minutes and thirty-seven seconds, I still want to read more nonfiction in the form of the essay.  I want to finally unpack Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, and Annie Proulx from my shelf. Basically, I want to read more women who fought back.  I’ve read A LOT of memoir and can swallow a short story in a sitting, but the form that always eludes me is the essay.  Maybe because I’ve tried to write several about the same ex-boyfriend? And maybe because I’m not sure how to know when to stop writing an essay?

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-9-24-29-pmI think it’s only fair then that I start with Rebecca Solnit.  She is the new age queen of the nonfiction essay. You may have seen her book Men Explain Things to Me all over Subways and feminist Instagram posts.  Her latest Hope in the Dark is on my reading list for this year so that I can try to make it through a Washington Post Twitter feed without crying in the morning before I’ve even had coffee.  However, I started with A Field Guide to Getting Lost. If you follow me on Instagram (@bookishcassie, shameless plug) then you know that I’ve felt very lost lately.

I actually think I’m losing brain matter, teaching kept me sharp. And I’ve always loved the poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art.”  During my worst year in college, the frustration came out in the form of locking my keys in my car.  Even once overnight, while running in the rain, I lost my keys to a dead engine. I cried to the last triple A guy, on the twelfth time.  You read that right, 12 incidents in a year of losing my mind long enough to leave my keys enclosed somewhere I wasn’t. In the beginning of our relationship, BJ was constantly losing things, or leaving them somewhere and forgetting them until just the right moment of overtime when we were walking out the door.  He doesn’t do this anymore, but I remember it being a test for me, I thought.  The little things we can handle due to love.

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Reading last week. It took me 10 days to read this book which is long for me. 

And I imagine these scenes of oddly connected things is what leads an essay.  At the deconstruction of an essay, if demolished, it would be these strange miscellaneous tools and objects that we’ve weaved together, not like a loom, but like shaking-hand crochet, to make meaning.  I think, at least, this is what Rebecca Solnit is doing in A Field Guide to Getting Lost.  There were moments where it worked for me so hard that I was furiously underlining passages and moments where this read more like a text book than a thoughtful process of braiding moments.

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Saturday trying to finish it, not even close. 

In the beginning she loiters over the idea of distance and the color of distance, blue.  We walk through mountains, towards an island on a dry lake, and through paintings — the amusement of painters in flight. This idea that distance and going towards it is a way of getting lost guides the reader through Solnit’s dreams from her childhood home.  Memories from this place haunt her dreams although she left the place in her late teens. There’s the distance between men and gold, the distance of extinct animals who both come back and remain undone.  This long-form essay is both a love letter to the distance of the desert and to a home that we can’t go back to.  All of these geographically lost things given new homes on the page. What we can know, what we pretend to know, and how our previous knowledge fills in gaps that we shouldn’t fill in is all also a part of this.  It’s our minds mixed with our place if I could describe it in the weakest terms.

“I survived not the outside world, but the inside one” (90).

I know this just sounds like some weird gak of nonsense, but it was beautiful at times.  There were moments where I could have licked the words to hold them in and moments where I was falling asleep reading.  I didn’t understand the ending on the Gold Rush trails, it all felt very boring-Oregan-Trail to me, but I think the message stands firm.  One must get lost to know oneself.  I’m sure some philosopher has said that well before me and in better form. We all do have something to find after all, right?

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Image from the Women’s March Raleigh, the rest of my images are on AlmostanIndependentClause.com

There were moments too when I was like “YAS, GIRL” because what she was saying was so true to what we’re currently living.  If you wake up devastated to the news you read, then you are feeling somewhat lost in a place that no longer looks like the home we’ve built as a nation.

“In these terms, even nostalgia and homesickness are privileges not granted to everyone” (123).

If you don’t read that quote thinking about refugees that have been further displaced by new “Executive Orders,” then you need to pick up a newspaper, or phone a friend.

“Such moments seem to mean that you have surrendered to the story being told and are following the story line rather than trying to tell it yourself, your puny voice interrupting and arguing with fate, nature, the gods” (134).

This, the time we finally decide to stand, against any odd.

“Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map’s information is what’s left out, the unmapped and unmappable. One of those in-depth local or state atlases that map ethnicity and education and principal crops and percentage foreign-born makes it clear that any place can be mapped infinite ways, that maps are deeply selective” (160).

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Today when Fro and I finally finished this one. 

I’d be lying if I believed that where you were born didn’t immediately dictate about fifty-percent of your life choices.  As a privileged American woman, I face the idea of sliding into complacency and believing I’m owed what I’m given.  The other option is realizing my own privilege and trying to narrow those gaps by fighting side by side, and listening to those who are faced with far less than I. I think Solnit finds that deep connection to geography, to home, to the memories that we apply to every landscape we press feet to. I think Dr. Seuss and the mantra “Oh the Places You Go” would be the child version of this idea.

I can’t argue that this is a perfect book by any means.  But the ideas in it, the way they’re imperfectly balanced against and for one another made this such a meaningful read.  I will read the rest of Solnit this year and I will eat each word like a delicacy because I know not everyone, and especially not all girls are given that right.

And words are everyone’s right.

 

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.

Presidential Book Club [Reads Based on Candidates]

Earlier this morning, I took the Isidewith.com quiz because I thought I might use it in my classroom.  I’m not sure how to infuse it just yet into my weekly lesson plan, but I did decide on a blog idea.  In this quasi-political episode of the blog, I’m going to recommend reads based on candidates.  Next week, I will recommend reads FOR candidates because I think there’s always an alternating side to our beliefs that can be discovered through literature, and although we may not agree, we can better understand.

First up, Bernie Sanders.  If you’re feelin’ the Bern, and you find his Larry David-looking independence and firm hand on the people’s hearts an easy way to declare a vote, here’s some recommendations from me that would align with Bernie’s political stances.

Bernie Sanders:

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  1. 1984 by George Orwell: I think most people read this book in American high schools, however, if you haven’t, I think the world Sanders is in the fight against the future concocted by Orwell in this book. Thought Police, drones in windows, Big Brother, and opinions that are lost in the abyss of brains that are not allowed to remember them.
  2. The World Without Us – Alan Weisman: Weisman introduces the concept of mass extinction of humans and how the earth, the literal geographical and environmental structure of the earth would continue to thrive.  Weisman uses too many scientific studies to count to show the stamp humankind has left on the earth and gives a visual where the reader can infer how their carbon footprint influences the effect of global warming, and climate change.
  3. Teaching to Transgress – Bell Hooks: I love this woman, I love all her books, but this one especially speaks to my profession.  In Teaching to Transgress, Hooks emphasizes the power of teachers in the classroom to rub up against and break down the boundaries of sexuality, gender, race, and cultural differences.  She’s inspiring, but also practical in her approach to politics and “politically correctness” in the classroom.
  4. The American Way of Poverty – Sasha Abramsky: This book emphasizes the war on poverty in America.  It discusses economic inequality in both an emotional and political way and looks to the future possibilities of poverty in one of the richest nations in the world.

Donald Trump:

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  1. Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports – Kate O’Bierne: sexist / anti-feminist

  2. The Turner Diaries – Andrew Macdonald: Racist and White Supremacist

  3. The Doctrine of Fascism – Benito Mussoline: facsist / dictator
  4. Mein Kamph – Adolf Hitler: dictator / anti-semitic / racist

Hillary Clinton:

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  1. Lean In: Woman, Work, And The Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandburg: This book is just a wonderful look at women in leadership positions and how to have it all.  She took a lot of heat for this book, but I believe it’s a great growing tool for women with a mind of entrepreneurial spirit.
  2. The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party Revolution and Battle over American History – Jill Lepore: Lepore never writes a book that disappoints.  This book blends politics and religion and the definition of American History based on the battle between the two.  Plus, she overanalyzes Sarah Palin which just makes me giggle most of the time.
  3. The Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward: A meditation on the lives of black men in America.  Ward lost five men in her life in quick succession and this book has an emphasis on the worth of bodies in America based on race, but also asks critical questions if it’s audience on the role of race, particularly black men, in America.
  4. Negroland – Margo Jefferson: This book is especially powerful in the wake of having an African American president reach practically a full term in office (YES!).  It discusses, in memoir fashion, the lives of elite African-American families and the boundaries placed around privilege from both white people and black people.

Ted Cruz:

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(I feel like I’m clearly missing The King James Bible here).

  1. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power – Jon Meacham: This book is actually AWESOME.  Ted Cruz wants to restore the constitution so people who vote for him should probably understand the founding of that constitution.  While he wasn’t physically there to write it, he was the first enforcer of it.
  2. In The Name of Identity – Maalouf: This is a meditation on how identity is not one thing but multiple things, and that parts of our identity are on the forefront most often when we’re threatened which makes identity almost directly, in today’s world, lead to violence. (My students actually read parts of this one and loved it).
  3. Undocumented – Aviva Chomsky: A professor who discusses the role of immigration and immigration reform in America.
  4. Mr. Gatling’s Terrible Marvel – Julia Keller: The history of Mr. Gatling and the Gatling gun. Definitely written more like fiction than nonfiction.  Mr. Cruz wants to protect the second amendment, so we should probably discuss where it began.

Feel free to comment for additions to the list.  I’m not really in the mood for a political debate, and I will do my best not to respond rudely to any of you that are #teamtrump.  As an educator of the population he would like to keep out of our country, I just have too many views on how his words impact his build it while he flies it platform.

Happy semi-political reading! Follow next week for reads you should pick up (based on my opinion) if you want to know more about the heavy hitting platforms in this years elections.  Can’t wait!

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How Do We Learn Understanding: Read

Monument of Mary Jemison @ St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church

I asked my students to write speeches to become the President of our Fascist country.  One of my students stood up at the front of the classroom and discussed the problems with white people.  There was anger in her tone, she was blushing, but with heat, not bloom.   She listed Ms. M specifically as “that kind.”

Now this was the assignment I had asked my students to do on the day that they became Fascist.  They needed to blame someone.  We were outlining the steps it took for Germany to become Nazi using our country, Manneslovokia.  I pinned my classroom against the other 9th grade classes and for four days we were a different type of German government leading to Naziism.  This sounds bad, but I needed my students to desperately understand why people put up with this behavior, what mob mentality is, and how ruling by fear dictates the action of millions of people.  It’s a complicated history and a complicated assignment for understanding, comprehension, and empathy.

Mary Jemison Grave Site / NY

My student who hunched over at the front of my classroom, calling me out as a white woman who pushed her views on those around her was speaking from the truth and from the lies.  I teach in a county full of displaced First Nation people.  I call them displaced because the Native American people of this region have not been given full First Nation rights like other tribes.  They are a mixed blend of the Six Nations and therefore can’t be determined to be “full blood.”  It’s another complicated story of history and blood lines and governments denial and stance.  For this purpose, I teach to a crowd of people who are born broken.  If you are displaced, if you are unsure of your real home, if you aren’t granted access into the rights of your people, or you aren’t granted a place to practice your true beliefs as been passed down than you have to born broken, born with a limp wing.

My school does a lot to heal that heartbreak.  We have “Indian Education” and performances by the local tribe for all of the student population so that they can understand the stories, dances, songs, instruments, and ideas of the tribal people living in their neighborhood.  It’s actually one of the most entertaining and inviting shows at school.  It is my job as an educator to know my student’s homes.  I may not have ever traveled down the dirt road where their parents keep a home, one lone tire swing and a broken screen door, but I’ve heard their stories even when not directly told to me.

Taking of Mary Jemison by Robert Griffing

I once called home to a student’s father and he cried at the news that his daughter was amazing and I was giving her an award for being an overall wonderful student.  He cried to me on the phone saying he had never heard a teacher’s voice, let alone praise for his only daughter, who happened to be the first redheaded Native American girl that I had ever met.  She looked like me, freckled and unpolished.  That’s what I try to teach my students, it isn’t what we look like, but who we are on the inside, these stories we keep folded into the space between our fingers that teach us about others and about ourselves.

Because I teach that beautiful redhead and many other First Nation students, I like to read a lot of Native American literature.  I read it for my own education and for the education of my students.  I tend to mow-down young adult First Nation literature the most because I know when I ask my students to take a book from the classroom shelf that they will see a story about themselves in the binding.  Now, I’m not talking about Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich although they’re both GREAT AUTHORS.  I’m talking true accounts, or accounts that have been fictionalized from true knowledge, accounts that feel true, not true to the white person who as my students put it “aren’t about that life,” but accounts from the mouths of Native people themselves.

The White by Deborah Lawson

When I was in Williamsburg, I had to search through the bookstore to see if there was anything worth grabbing up for my students.  I was lucky enough to find a book titled The White by Deborah Larsen.  The White is a fictionalized story of Mary Jemison whose true story was that she was taken as a young adult female into a Seneca tribe as a replacement soul for the soul of a brother taken by whites.  Larsen does an adequate job of interweaving the true account as told by a physician who listened to Mary’s story and wrote the words for her, and Larsen’s fictionalized vision of who this young girl was and grew up to be.   It’s that perfect blend of two cultures, it’s what my students are.  Mary realizes throughout the story the different parts of herself and what she’s decided to keep from each upbringing.  She realizes she’s unable to read at one point and makes it her mission to learn every new word she comes across to teach to her children.

“Pardon me. What are ‘dregs’?”

Mary never forgets the day she was taken, her study of snow with her British family, or the shadows of the scalping that killed all of her younger brothers and sisters, but she also learns to embrace Seneca life and marries two strong Seneca men.  To be honest, I was in love with Sheninjee.  He was so respectful of Mary’s lack of affection towards him and finally when they did become husband and wife in the biblical sense, it was told in the slight brushing of fingertips against a collarbone.  That is beautiful young adult literature, just a pebble thrown in water with the page’s white space as all the small circles that wake out.

The Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison by James Seaver

“Let her leave if she wishes,’ Sheninjee said. ‘My first act as her husband would be to set her free.  If she passed from our village, I would ask our people not to pursue her” (59).

The White shows the acceptance and deep warmth of the Seneca towards Mary and her growth towards loving them.  By the end of the book, it’s safe to say that Mary is neither Seneca, nor white, but she’s what the character’s call a “white witch,” a woman who lives in both worlds, both languages, and has both spirits.  I hope this story, though fictionalized, helps my students break boundaries.  It’s written with very poetic language, lots of white space, lots of things go unspoken as the people of the Seneca choose wisely where to put words.  I’ve never had to choose wisely where to put words, or choose when to speak really unless it’s in interrupting someone else, but I like the idea of a choice.  Now we just talk to talk.  We talk on the phone, through instant social media and text message, letter-writing.  I’m talking right now as I write this and the words move bumbling on my lips. Just imagine if we started choosing when to speak, it became a choice.  Maybe we’d create a generation of listeners, or just a generation that tries harder to understand.

Here is a chapter from the physician’s account of Captivity Narrative about Mary Jemison.

About my thoughts on talking by choice, Ted Talk: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Newsday Tuesday

Favorite Tweets:

Book News:

Project 365 | Week 41

Guys, my blog has been sucking.  Don’t worry, this week there will be book reviews and bookgasms and bookishness.  I’m finally getting used to my schedule of taking classes and teaching classes and grocery shopping.

LET THERE BE BOOKS!

289:

Sunday Drive

This week is going to be a drive through my small town.

290:

Wires & Land

This is one of my favorite places on my drive home.  It’s where the farms are mixed with a bit of wire.

I read this poem this week and it’s what reminded me that I can find something beautiful in something ugly.

Valentine for Ernest Mann – Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

291:

Shower Curtain Light

Ignore the claw marks.  That would be my kitten, Fromage.  She not only likes cheese, but curtains, blankets, decorative chairs, etc.

292:

My little town involves their secret cuddles.

Secret Canoodling!

I can’t help but take these photos.

They should be on that new Animal Planet show dedicated to cuteness.

293:

Slash & Burn

This is good for the harvest.  This is good for the harvest.  This is good for the harvest.

294:

Children’s Section of The Country Bookshop

I went to get the next book in The Wildwood Chronicles because it’s written for 24-year-olds and fifth graders.   I happened upon this chalk door, (like a gate into the secret garden).   Don’t worry, I didn’t break the seal of childhood by selecting a chunk of chalk and scribbling a 24-year-old heart onto the door.  I really wanted to though, maybe next time.

PS. This is The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines.  Their motto is “Bringing the World to Southern Pines.” 

295:

“We like big bird….with ranch & hot sauce.”

Political voice in small town America.

296:

Poe looks dashing in blue.

Somehow, I managed to mix Lewis and Edgar in one Creative Writing Club flyer.

“Lincoln was always scribbling notes and putting them into his hat.” – Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

* I can’t say the grammar in this is at its finest.  I am exhausted.  I had to let out some word beauty though, my sweet outlet.

It’s an election year. It’s a love letter to democracy (democrazy).  It’s a story about men and their hats, or the tallness that sits upon their heads.  It makes me feel dumb because I can’t speak 9 languages and don’t collect paintings, or keep charts about my farm.  I don’t even have a farm or a garden.  I can barely rake the leaves in my backyard and remember to feed the birds.

Maira Kalman’s And the Pursuit of Happiness is a graphic novel about the history of the US.  What men were important and what is more important than their wars and the parchment they signed in their thick oak chairs?   It is a love letter to freedom, liberty, constitutional declarations.  A sweet swirly handwriting, a drawing of Abraham Lincoln that isn’t a stick figure with a large hat and hair combed-over.  It’s a history class in a graphic novel.   I wish I could teach her in my classroom, let my students see that people wish they could sleep in history, rather than sleep through it.  Go back and sit in balconies, invent electricity, write love letters to their wives over gunshots and tent flaps.

Maira Kalman isn’t a historian, but she’s an American and at some point we all become tiny historians on our tiny piece of the world.  I am the historian of my mother’s spoon and bowl upbringing of my brother, my father’s bald spot, the short history of my cats as they scale curtains and scratch furniture.  I am the historian of this bedroom covered in flowers and robins egg blue.  The teacher, the historian of my classroom with its sit down, stand up rules, its copies of worksheets that kill forests, and the smart board that will forever be my mortal enemy.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

Think about it.  We’re all historians.  Our tweets will build history books for our children’s children.  People will ask what the War in Iraq was like and we will tell them dusty, too many bombs, too many lost limbs and young men left broken.  Too many things no one told us before this started.   What was 9/11 like? Terrifying.  What was that town like that you lived in when you were small, the neighborhood pool, the fence built by hand up the alley of the main street.  You are the historian, you are the story teller, you are the voice for this bit part.  

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“I would confess to him that I would love to live in the Lincoln Memorial.  Just a simple cot in the center of the space.  I would make my bed and sweep.  Drink tea.  My neatness and happy aspect would amuse him. In the evening I would embroider his words onto fabric.  Words that seem so apt today” (90). I would confess to Ben Franklin that I would love to own a pair of bifocals to make me look smarter in snob coffee houses, when I snap my fingers to the stanzas.  I would wear loafers, penny loafers, and float in on pear perfume and fancy.

I think this book reminded me how much I love the superstars of history and literature.  Aren’t we all obsessed with some bearded man, someone who sweat over notes of declarations, or two scores, or the figures for electricity?

I have a special place in my heart for George Washington and his wooden teeth.  In middle school, I was picked on for my buck teeth, my fingernail gap.  I look at people’s teeth when they smile in the street, as they shake my hand.  I prayed for braces into my pillow and then I grew up and my teeth got coffee stains and floss.  There’s something special about a man who just filled his teeth with ivory (or wood)  and went on conquering.

I also adore John Adams.  I’ve read the letters between his wife and him.  Their romance was one for the storybooks, literally.  When I picture widows standing guard on the railings of Antellbellum homes, I think of Abigal Adams.  Abigal must be a close relative to Alice with their names being so similar, and their dresses frilled with petticoat lace.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“After the 1850’s, thanks in part to Franklin’s influence, America became the land of ingenuity.  Here, in 1898, is Nikola Tesla, who talked to pigeons and worked with electricity, while calmly reading a book. I wish I knew what he was reading” (237).

I’m such an angry feminist.  Sometimes I forget all the gifts that men gave our culture when they weren’t busy being barbarians.  I didn’t know who Nikola Tesla was before this book, but I do love a man who talks to the birds.  Then, there’s Thomas Edison who “invented naps” because he was inventing so many things he needed to get into bed every afternoon at approximately 3pm just after a late tea.

Maira Kalman – And the Pursuit of Happiness

“Everything is invented. Language. Childhood.  Careers.  Relationships.  Religion. Philosophy.  The Future.  They are not there for the plucking.  They don’t exist in some natural state.  They must be invented by people.  And that, of course, is a great thing.  Don’t mope in your room.  Go invent something.”

GO. INVENT. SOMETHING.

You have a blog, write it.  You have a voice, sing.  How do you carve a bird with two stones?  How do you wrap an adult hand around the small pinky of a newborn baby?

For that matter, how do you answer a student who tells you on college ruled paper that he didn’t read, and he didn’t understand any of the stories, that he’s lost hope in ever passing your class? You pinky promise.  You invent handshakes and lessons.  You invent hope where there isn’t any and you create this small flame in his eyes.  You rest everything in your life on that one short sentence, a sentence that means hope in every way you say it….a pinky wrapped around the pink middle of another pinky, the inside of a heart, hanging open.

Why Are You in my Uterus?

It’s time for the inevitable people.  You knew this was coming: The War on Women.

Transvaginal Ultrasound

Earlier in February, Virginia lawmakers and their governor (notice the blatant lack of capitalization) thought it was appropriate to enter a bill for transvaginal ultrasounds pre-abortion.  Side note: I’m a Catholic woman, would I ever be able to get an abortion?  Probably not.  Does that mean I need to dictate how every other woman’s decision needs to be made on the subject? Absolutely not.  Your body, your decision.

A transvaginal ultrasound is defined as this: Transvaginal ultrasound is a type of pelvic ultrasound. It is used to look at a woman’s reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries, cervix, and vagina. Transvaginal means across or through the vagina. (Medicine Plus)

Now, here is the definition of rape: Forcible Sex Offense: Any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly or against that person’s will. Includes forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual asualt with an object, and forcible fondling.

Here is another definition of sexual battery (for those of you who like to argue):  Sexual Battery: Forced oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by any object, except when these acts are performed for bona fide medical purposes.

I’m not sure forcing women to have a vaginal ultrasound is “bona fide medical purposes,” however penetrating a woman with or without medical purpose against their will isn’t acceptable.  It isn’t acceptable to write into law any type of entrance into a woman’s private parts, ever.  I like to choose what goes into my vagina thank you, and an ultrasound probe for whatever reason is not on the top of my list.

Hence, I am particularly thankful for the men and women of Virginia’s silent protest.

In the history of language/the first obscenity was silence.” – Christina Davis

Here is where I always turn to the literature.  Last night I was reading Christina Davis’ brilliant collection of poems, Forth a Raven.  Whenever I’m in a moment where I don’t have the language or words, I go to the literature.  This is a quote I found in the poem, “The Primer” which is about love, and language, and usage.  It is the perfect tune for the Virginia protests.  What is grander than silence?  What is worse than yelling, and pitch forks, and gangs of human beings hooked together at the elbows with signs of hate in bold black marker? Silence.  Silence is the greatest power we have as human beings: to choose when and if to speak, or just to coat the air with the remarkableness of nothing.  It’s enough that we have language to argue, to write, to form a voice for our bodies and soul, but it’s even more to have the chance and the power to stop that voice and let the noiseless emotion fill the blue air.

Thank you, Virginians.

And then we come to the reason why I’m a slut: the pimple of politics, Rush Limbaugh.

If you watch the news, or you listen to NPR, or God-help-us you listen to Rush Limbaugh in the mornings then you’ve already heard about the comments he’s made to and about Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke.  If you haven’t heard the comments, here are just a few remarks:

  • “What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
  • “She was not allowed to testify because it was not about women at Georgetown who have so much sex they can’t afford birth control…”
  • “if we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.” (Yes, he did say porn was acceptable, but for women to have contraceptives, not so much…)
This isn’t an argument about whether the government should subsidize birth control anymore, it’s an argument against women’s rights and women’s value.

And here is my open letter to Rush Limbaugh.

Dear Rush,

Hello from the inner world of my brain which does not reside in the deep red depths of my vagina.  This is Slut # 273,483,212 speaking from North Carolina (yes, the Bible Belt).  Thank you dearly for calling me a slut on Friday from the smooth reclining chair and empty airspace of your cubicle radio room.  It’s easy, isn’t it, to sit behind a microphone and let your thunderous voice boom out to millions of people (if in fact that many people actually listen to you seriously).  Unlike the Virginia protesters you can’t look anyone in the eye with your comments, can you?

I’m not angry that you called me a slut.  You’re right, I do have free choice on who and what goes into my vagina.  I do have the right to protect myself from STD’s through use of grocery store birth control methods, and medically prescribed pills that I oh, so love, to take at the same time everyday.  Did you know that I got on birth control to stop heavy flow, not because I was bringing all the boys to the yard.  I’m a bookish nerd, I clean up pretty, but I’m not exactly a sexual beast.  And if I were, why is that your business?  I do hope your wife has since thrown away her 30 days of pills in their purple packet and stuck the “two aspirins between her legs.”  Sorry honey, no sex tonight.  Maybe she can give YOU recommendations on which birth control method would suit your heavy flow, and also make sure you don’t gain weight (because that’s certainly a side effect).

I think my favorite part of your broadcast was this:

“So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

I know your game is to objectify and continue the rape-culture.  The culture where advertisements picture women in scantily clad clothes serving their men beer on a platter.  In fact, here is where I think you and Chris Brown would definitely get along.  You both prefer women bent over and quiet.  It’s men like you that make it okay for women to be door mats, vacuum cleaners, punching bags, trash bins, just another pair of legs.

I’m sure your mother would be proud.  Not only did she fit your big head through that birth canal, but she created a balding, middle-aged man that doesn’t respect the very mind that made him.  Your mother did all the right things during pregnancy and was lucky enough to have the miracle of a healthy baby boy in her arms when you were born.  But, let’s not forget, she’s a slut.  Your sister’s a slut.  I’m a slut.  My mom’s a slut.  Plenty of women reading this blog are sluts.

Thank you for making me proud to use this word. No longer will I feel offended being called this by sidewalk preachers and back woods conservatives.  If being a slut means having total control of my body, and the welfare of any child born within, I’m a total slutbag.

Just remember, in 1920, I was given the right to vote.  It may have taken us an 18 year movement and a history of domesticity, but somehow (maybe with intelligence…just maybe) we managed to collectively earn that right.  If you think I’ll ever vote for someone, or something that lets a man’s heavy hands into my vagina, you’re dead wrong.  Welcome to the female nation.  Welcome to democracy.

Sincerely,

A Feminazi

My dear blogger friend has had an amazing idea to write his sponsors or at least boycott them.  Here is the list of Rush’s radio sponsors.