In February 2019, I published my book, From A Whisper to a Riot: The Gay Writers Who Crafted an American Literary Tradition. In it, I explore the long, quiet road that writers all over the United States took, the private communications they had, the many friendships they made and allies they found, and the difficult struggles they faced, not just as people but in the path to publication, for decades leading up to the infamous Stonewall Riots.
As a gay man, a writer, and an American, it was important for me to try to understand the history of my people and to share it with anyone I could. It’s important because we don’t tend to think contextually or historically in our everyday lives. We forget about the how and the why and the when of situations, and especially, the how long. Instead, we see only what happens immediately in front of us and wonder, “how could this have happened!?” Or worse, instead of listening to the cries of the people, we lecture them on how they share their pain.
The Stonewall Riots were commenced and successful in large part because of black, brown, and transgender people who had had enough abuse and intimidation. The Riots are important to remember, but they did not not materialize out of thin air. They were not an impromptu party. They were not a parade. And they did not happen as a first resort. In the years leading up to Stonewall, other, smaller protests were taking place in cities around the country because queer people were getting tired of being told how and when and where to live their authentic lives and because they were tired of authorities, mostly the police, invading their spaces to brutalize them, shame them, and expose them. So, yes, before Stonewall, there were other kinds of battles, other kinds of cries, and other kinds of actions, all of which were paving the way for a lasting impression. It is not enough just to remember Stonewall. We have to remember what made Stonewall necessary.
The road to equity and justice for the oppressed is always much longer and rockier than we recognize, particularly when there’s one flashy event happening in our time that is demanding our attention. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “riot is the language of the unheard.” It happens because nobody is listening in the first place. This is why, for Pride Month every June, I try to read and write about LGBTQ+ stories and to encourage others to join me in the process. I do the same in October, in honor of National Coming Out Day, which is October 11 in the U.S. Reading and listening are acts of love. The more we read about others’ lives, the more we truly listen to the history of those lives, the more empathy and understanding we can build, and the better we begin to understand that “riots” and “movements” and “monumental events,” the ones that we celebrate now, well, they didn’t happen overnight, and they were not always celebrated; they were often feared.
The Supreme Court ruling declaring marriage equality the law of this land did not happen because someone asked politely for a couple of years. That fight began decades earlier, and it was bloody and demoralizing. Martin Luther King Jr., who is so often quoted today, especially by white people looking to ease tension and call for peace, was not beloved by white people in his time, despite contemporary fantasies. He was on the list of America’s most hated people. We remember him for his peaceful protests, but by the same flawed logic, we forget that he was assassinated for it. We praise our nation’s progress through the Civil Rights movement, but we forget how long that fight was–still is–and who it is that have given their lives for it.
Angela Davis said, “it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” She is right. Considering all that is happening in our world right now, the murders of black men and women and the all too frequent inability of courts to bring their murderers to justice, I’ve decided not to focus on my story this year, but to amplify the stories of our black brothers and sisters who have been fighting this battle, often alone. White people, in particular, have always had and still maintain a special privilege in this country that allows them opportunity to speak and to be present in every space, without fear. That doesn’t mean we have it easy. But it does mean that the color of our skin has never made it harder. As a gay man, I know what it is to feel not just the active abuses of bigotry, but the severe, daily loneliness of existing differently and the deeply painful process of needing to “come out” every single day. But as a white man, I know that my personal struggles do not compare to those perpetuated by racism. I know that I am not looked at with skepticism, with fear, with distrust, and with animosity whenever I leave the house (at least not unless I signal myself). This racism is everywhere. It is in our systems. It is in our laws. It is even in the best intentions of our good people. And it is important that we stop asking our black brothers and sisters, and other people of color, to carry this load alone. We benefit from it. We need to end it.
I would like to share some resources for learning how to be antiracist; some voices that can be found on social media who should be heard; some books we can read to help us learn; and some ways for all of us to help right now. This list is minuscule, in the grand scheme of things, but it is a place to start. Black lives matter.
If you know of any other important voices, important resources, or important programs that need help, please feel free to share a little bit about them in the comments below. Thank you! Be safe out there.
Described as “boldly conjured,” The Water Dancer is the debut novel from non-fiction writer and National Book Award-winner Ta-Nehisi Coates. It tells the story of young Hiram Walker, son of a slave and a slave-owner, who struggles with the competing poles of freedom and family, of memory and power, and of duty to self and duty to the greater good.
The story begins with a memory, or perhaps more accurately, the memory. It is the root and the truth that offers Hiram, called Hi, unparalleled power, but also the burden of deep pain. Just as Hiram is described as having a “magical gift,” the book’s opening is a magical gift to its reader. I was immediately drawn to this boy’s story, to his circumstance, and to the promise that is his destiny, made clear from the narrative’s atmosphere without so much as a word of it being spoken, or written. But then that magic, that promise, gets lost somewhere, and for most of the book, I read on only in hopes that it will return.
Much as I appreciated Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant memoir, Between the World and Me, something about his prose fiction left me less invested and even a little bit skeptical. There are two major struggles I had with the book that made it both a bit of a trudge to get through and a concerning experience. In the first case, Hiram narrates much of what happens to him through the perspective of others. So, although the story is told in the first-person, the reader relies on what other characters think and feel and say about Hiram in order to get any real understanding of who Hi is supposed to be. Maybe that’s intentional, as Hiram is indeed lost to himself for most of his journey, but the problem is that it does not feel intentional. It feels like a lack in characterization. Hiram’s power; Hiram’s promise; Hiram’s goodness; Hiram’s appeal. The characters tell Hiram he has all of this, but this reader never saw it developed on its own. In other words, if someone in the story wasn’t relaying how remarkable Hiram is, how would we know it?
And a little sociopolitical concern (not a critique of the narrative itself):
The second concern is one that I’ve been debating about including at all, and that is that this book falls into what seems to be a new trend in contemporary historical fiction, which is to treat real lives and real times with elements of fantasy or science-fiction. Other recent works that come to mind are Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Kasi Lemmon’s 2019 film, Harriet. As someone who is not a person of color, I don’t feel qualified to critique this trend, but as an ally, I can’t help but admit I’m concerned about how many real historic events and historic heroes, like Harriet Tubman, are being recast in fantasy roles, with magical abilities. Someone much smarter than me can probably explain the appeal of this, but I worry about how this might open the door for coordinated, bad-faith re-framing of historical truths. What I mean is, we know there are already alternative (false) narratives surrounding American history, particularly as it pertains to the treatment of non-white, non-straight, non-male persons in the United States (i.e. slavery, women, immigrants, indigenous people, homosexuals, etc). At first, these stories were simply muted; now, however, as various diverse cultural communities have begun to assert their voices and to tell their stories, they have been met with responses ranging from simple dismissal, to violent opposition, to assaults on their value or truth.
We see this in the way some people treat the Civil War as, for example, “the war between the states,” or even more disingenuously, “the war of northern aggression.” There are people who now argue that slavery was a good thing, that black people were better off in the antebellum era, etc. We see this, too, in the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who believe (or who for reasons of politics and religious prejudice pretend to believe) that the Jewish holocaust of World War 2 was a hoax. A more optimistic reader might be thinking, right now, “Oh, come now, people can tell the difference between the historical figures and events and their fictional depictions.” Are we sure, though? And are we sure that in 50 or 100 years, after a couple of generations of recasting powerful, heroic historic figures like Harriet Tubman–who did real human work with real human skill–as fantasy figures, that their legacy won’t begin to be diminished by the very attempt these re-tellings make to elevate them? As a teacher/scholar of the history of narrative, I’m not convinced that the truth which becomes legend which becomes fantasy does much justice to the true history of a time and its people, but this is especially true when there are concerted efforts being made by powerful and organized forces who very much intend to capitalize on any opportunity to deny the narrative of traditionally marginalized and oppressed people, or to change it altogether. If they can make people believe it was fantasy, without any help from representative writers and allies, what will they be able to do once those very writers write-into the mode? If the original story and all its struggle is already lost to contemporary audiences, what makes us believe they’ll be able to simultaneously separate the fantasy fiction from the real story at its foundation?
[A Note: Just a few years ago, I taught The Book Thief to two sections of College English–Freshman-level. The majority of my students in both sections had no basic knowledge about World War II or the Holocaust to begin with; I found myself having to teach the history in order to teach this one novel’s treatment of it. How do we expect most casual readers, then, to take a book about Harriet Tubman, which affords her magical powers, and not expect the ensuing cultural interpretation of that person to become the fantasy version? I’m thinking, now, of the way my generation used to think of Davy Crockett and Paul Bunyan, when we were young. How long did it take most of us to learn about the real people behind those tall tales? How many of us bothered?]
I suppose I want these figures to be legends for the right reason, heroes for the right reason. I worry that if we turn them into something they are not, in the cultural lexicon they will become fantasy figures. And fantasies can be much more easily disregarded than historical facts.
Anyhow, those are the two challenges I had, personally, reading this one. The first was, I thought, a problem in the narrative itself, particularly in characterization. After the initial connection the early chapters make, the romance fizzles out for me and I struggled to carry on, to feel invested, or to even believe in this Hiram, who so many other characters seemed to have such expectations for but without much articulated reason. The other challenge for me is, as explained, one about the larger conversation rather than about the story itself.
All that being said, Ta-Nehisi Coates is without doubt a powerful writer and thinker, and an insightful one. His philosophy, even the very conversation he has with his son in Between the World and Me, comes through in the telling of Hiram Walker’s tale, too. There’s a heavy focus on two elements, for example, which are the importance of memory and the importance of names or naming. Throughout the story, the narrator reminds us that without facing our own memories, especially the painful ones, we cannot really expect to develop into our full being or to take ownership of our own lives, choices, and destinies. Coates seems to suggest, rightly, I think, that to avoid where we came from is to deny from ourselves a complete future. Similarly, as makes sense with a story about slavery, is the power of one’s name, which sometimes means choosing a name for ourselves. This, too, is an ancient trope of fantasy fiction: the hero must know the villain’s name in order to disarm him. In this case, a free person must decide for him or herself by which name they will know the world, and let the world know them.
This was an odd journey for me. I appreciate this book very much and particularly its philosophy. The idea that freedom isn’t free for everyone, and that it is indeed different for everyone at any point in his life, is a point well-taken and one that Coates weaves masterfully in and out of this story, from multiple perspectives. But the book is also part of a trend that troubles me. It’s strange for me to feel so conflicted about a novel, but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.
Peter Watson’s The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God is a book that I had long wanted to read and one that took me about as long to actually read it, after finally getting my hands on it! The time was well-spent, however, because this is one of the best books on religion or non-religion that I have read. Since the book is so long and complex, though, I would like to point out just a few of the things I appreciated about it, and then end with one minor note about something that may be challenging for others who are considering reading it.
The first thing I like about the book is that it proceeds somewhat chronologically and that its chapters are thematic. This makes reading a long, complicated work a little bit easier, as if there’s a road-map to be followed and convenient rest stops along the journey. I never read more than one chapter at a time, for example, because each one is packed with information that requires time, attention, and reflection. To further clarify, there are three major “parts” to the book and each “part” has about 8 chapters in it. Each chapter is a closer look at something related to the larger part’s purpose. The book begins with Nietzsche (rightly so, since its purpose is to explore humanity’s relationship with religion since Nietzsche’s world-shaking statement that, “god is dead”) proceeds through the world wars, modernism, and postmodernism, and pretty much everything in between, up to about the present day. The book is certainly focused heavily on western civilization, but it is not without some insight into perspectives from around the world, including other religions and political systems.
The second component that I enjoyed and that kept me invested is that this book covers a range of issues; its focus is of course on those influential historical figures who either openly or privately lived and produced (created?) without a belief in god; however, this generalization doesn’t do justice to the incredible depth of knowledge in here. Watson explores science and religion, politics and history, art and literature. There are some particularly wonderful chapter sections on relationships between all of these, such as his synthesis of the 1950s “culture of spontaneity,” where he investigates the inter-connectedness of music, poetry, literature, dance, and even the physical arts, like pottery. This is an element of the Beat Generation that I hadn’t had much insight into before now, despite having read so many of the Beat writers & poets. And I think this is one of the things that Watson does best, illuminating the many ways that people were responding to different events and during various moments in time.
The third item I want to point out specifically as an achievement in this text is its tone, set by Watson from the start and which persists throughout, right up to the end. Many texts written by atheists and which are designed to propel a pro-atheist perspective are, let’s admit it, rather combative in tone. (Not all of them, of course, but atheist philosophy has gotten a reputation for being harsh and arrogant for a reason). This book is not that, thankfully. Instead of going on the attack, Watson creates a rather inviting environment, one of open-mindedness and curious exploration. Yes, I think there are moments where his argument becomes more pronounced, but there is very little if any whiff of superiority. Instead, I think people of any religion (or none) could feel, if not comfortable, at least secure in reading this text as a fascinating, in-depth, and illuminating perspective on history and philosophy that does not get nearly as much attention as some of the more mainstream, Christian/Western texts have for the last many hundreds of years. Indeed, there is even a section where Watson explains how and why religious belief developed logically. In any case, Watson seems to be posing, quite genuinely, some open-ended questions about humanity’s nature with religion(s) and faith, none of which he answers definitely, but all of which are supported by the intensive study he has performed and the synthesis of thematic ideas he presents for the reader’s own edification and consideration.
Lastly, a cautionary note of sorts. There are a lot of Goodreads reviews suggesting that this is a difficult read, and I don’t deny that. Readers have found it to be either too complicated/dry for the average reader and/or too much of a survey, meaning it lacks much depth and context for the many people, places, movements, and thoughts it covers. I can’t disagree with that, but I will say, I think Watson had every intention of this being a survey text. It reminds me of something one might read in an introductory college course on any subject, in that it exposes the reader to a great number of important figures and concepts, supports these with an excellent bibliography, and provides important connections between these figures, their times and places. It is certainly a challenging read and it is not meant to answer all questions or to be an endpoint for study. Personally, I’ve added about 45 texts to my reading list because they were mentioned or referenced in this one. I don’t find that to be a failing on the book’s part, as many have, but I’ll concede it’s something a reader should probably know before beginning it. (The book is 556-pages long and, according to Goodreads, it took me almost 5 months to read. I’m a very fast reader, usually, so this is saying something; namely, be prepared to take your time.)
Strikingly, for me, Watson ends his tome with a discussion of narrative and of our (human beings’) purpose in life. What does make a good life? What constitutes a good person? Ultimately, he ends where I’ve been sitting for some time, which is with the idea of our responsibility to one another; he suggests that the only way forward is through action–meaning living for now rather than some hoped-for future–and, specifically, action that, through language, creates communities and societies that are more inclusive and have greater equality, liberty, and fairness. After a long trudge through history, philosophy, politics, science, mathematics, and art, Watson ends on a message of hope and togetherness. I understand that’s antithetical to the perception many have about atheism or atheists, but it’s exactly the kind of temperament I’ve seen in people who choose to live for people. What is it that Dumbledore says? “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
I’ve seen so many wacky, dangerous, and downright ignorant things being said about the current state of pandemic affairs, that I couldn’t sleep last night for my agitation over it. I won’t go into all the issues, like conspiracy theories (Trump did it! The DNC did it!) and ridiculous anti-human, pro-capitalist Darwinist points of view, because they don’t deserve attention.
I know all of us come to every situation and every decision we make with our own prejudices and biases, and operating from our own personal, political, and professional interests. I’m going to do my best to strip my biases here and look at some cold hard facts that I think are being misremembered, willfully misapplied, or dangerously corrupted, right now, either out of frustration, boredom, or, most egregiously, self-interest. Will you lean in with me for just a few minutes?
My biggest concern right now, as we begin to reopen or “phase in” all across the country, is that there continue to be two wildly erroneous narratives being pushed: 1) That so many people have gotten sick, died, and/or recovered, that clearly the preventative measures didn’t work; and 2) That if everyone is going to get sick anyway, we might as well just get it over with.
I understand why folks would begin to believe one or the other of these arguments. On the surface, they sound logical. They are not.
Let’s begin with the first argument, that the extreme number of cases and deaths in the United States, particularly as compared to the rest of the world, means stay-at-home orders, preventative practices (masks, hand sanitizer, hand-washing), and social distancing, have not worked. As of May 8, the United States has 1,248,040 confirmed cases and 75,477 deaths. That’s a 6% fatality rate. (Admittedly, chances are that there are many cases that have gone unconfirmed which would mean the fatality rate is probably more like 3%.) Yes, these numbers are disturbingly high. Yes, we probably should have done better and acted sooner. But let’s focus on those numbers a little bit closer and imagine what they would look like if we had done nothing for the last eight weeks.
I want you to imagine that the United States had ignored the spread, as had been seriously suggested, and gone about business as usual. I want you to take that number—1,248,040—and think about what it would be today if everyone kept crowding onto city buses and trains, going to and from work every day. If young people had continued to cram into school classrooms and lecture halls. If people had been flocking by the thousands into standing-room-only concert halls. If air travel continued uninterrupted before, during, and after spring break, filling to the brim our airplanes and airports, hotel rooms and casinos, resorts and restaurants and bars. What does that number look like, right now, with 60-days of free spread? Is it double? Triple? Octuple? Really consider this for a second. What do you think that number is? 5 million cases? 6 million? Have you settled on a likely amount? Okay.
Now tell me what a 6% fatality rate looks like. How many people are dead? Is that just the cost of doing business in America?
Now, I agree that it can be discouraging to be sitting at home, bored, broke, life disrupted, work disrupted, income disrupted, and see a number like 1.2 million cases. Even more disheartening is to see 75,000 deaths. “What was the point!?” I urge you to keep perspective. It is exactly because we hit the brakes and because so many of us have been doing what was asked of us that the number is only what it is right now. Let your imagination do some work, here, and calculate 60 days of “normal living” against that number.
Now, let’s take the second argument. It’s either some version of “everyone is going to get sick anyway” or “we need to build up an immunity to this anyway,” with the subsequent suggestion that we should just get it over with in one fell swoop. This again seems sensible on the surface, but it would be a disaster. No one ever promised that social distancing and preventative measures were a panacea that would keep all of us from ever getting sick. So, then, what was the point of all this? Well, in fact, the doctors and experts made it clear very early on that we were not staying at home to protect ourselves, but to protect others. Specifically, to protect our healthcare workers and our healthcare system from total collapse.
Consider the imaginative exercise from above. What number did you come up with for total cases and total deaths, had we done nothing? Now, imagine how many of those bodies would have needed to be hospitalized? At the very least, almost every single one of those fatalities may have had days or weeks of health decline, where they needed care and attention from nurses and doctors, surgeons and anesthesiologists, etc. If we had “just gotten it over with” and all gotten sick at the same time, it might have allowed us to build up our collective (herd) immunity faster, if that’s even possible with this virus (that is as yet unproved), but at what cost? This is exactly the choice Italy made at first and why that country became the picture of failure and disaster, the warning sign to the rest of the world. It was that picture that caused American leadership to finally take note and pursue the path that we did. After all, if our hospitals and doctors’ offices had been overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases alone, where would the 300+ million of us needing care at any moment for other reasons, like stroke or heart attack, broken bone or deadly allergen, toxic ingestion or severe injury, get the help we need? How many accidental casualties?
So, it is true, we will all probably contract this virus at some point, or already have. It is in that way (though not in other ways) very much like the flu that comes back at least once per year; but unlike the flu, we do not have vaccines and antibodies for this yet. We had to create the buffer ourselves. We had to be the temporary vaccine so that we could somewhat control the rate of infection by slowing it down, just as the flu vaccine slows down the rate of infection but doesn’t stop the spread completely. To have allowed the virus to run rampant for the sake of getting it over with would have resulted in not just higher numbers of COVID illnesses that are probably going to happen at some point anyway, but it would have caused a total catastrophe for our healthcare systems around the country; this means too many otherwise treatable injuries and illnesses would turn fatal because the system simply wouldn’t have been able to keep up. (And guess what, doctors and nurses get sick, too. Now we have a system that’s over capacity and under-staffed. Sounds good to you?)
If you were feeling like all of this was pointless, I hope you understand that it wasn’t. Either by force or by choice, we did help to flatten the curve, but we’re not done. I went out for a coffee yesterday, wearing a mask and keeping my distance, and noticed that there were two dozen people walking the outdoor mall completely without care. Not a single person besides me, except for the employees, was wearing a mask. Our Governor announced that as of May 9th we would begin PHASE 1 of EASING restrictions. People take that to mean: it’s over!
This is not over.
You, I, and our loved ones are going to get sick. Hopefully our cases will be mild or even asymptomatic. But we don’t know. And we don’t know what will happen to the family members, friends, or the front-line workers, like our neighborhood barista we apparently literally can’t live without, if we give our “mild” case to them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that on my conscience.
This isn’t about living in fear. It’s about loving our neighbor.
This is isn’t about hoping we will never get sick. We will get sick.
But don’t you want a doctor, a nurse, an ambulance, a hospital bed available to you or your loved ones when it happens? Wear your damn mask. Wash your damn hands. Use your damn brains. There are only two reasons why you wouldn’t. Either you refuse to understand. Or you refuse to care.
What kind of person do you want to be? Yes, it’s your choice.
Dear Diary: May 6, 2020. I guess it’s fair to say that I’ve been going through something. As the Indigo Girls so rightly sing, “Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable. Lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”
It’s a stressful time and we’re all trying to handle it as best we can, but I find all sorts of problematic things happening. My moods seem to come in waves, with minor “up” times and long-lasting “down” times. On the bright side, I have gotten back into a regular exercise routine because I’ve been feeling better for the last month or so, as far as physical health goes. The treatment they put me on seems to be working; something for which to be grateful! But it’s clear that I’ve been missing my students (in person) and that totally online teaching is not for me. As of today, I’m also scheduled for an online schedule in Summer and in Fall 2020. Better safe than sorry, but I’m going to be completely redesigning my classes so I can at least get virtual face-time with my students.
I’m also tired of social media. I keep saying that, I know. But for all its perks and possibilities, it mostly just depresses me. I continue to see people at their absolute worst, and I honestly can’t take it anymore. So, I’m getting rid of Twitter and Facebook by end of the week. I’ve already made both private. I’ll keep Instagram because I love seeing peoples’ photos and keeping up with their lives that way, but otherwise, I’m focusing on my writing from here forward. That’s that! (Reader, he did not focus on his writing.)
Does anyone else wonder what has happened to us as a species? I was trying to have this conversation on Twitter last night, but I feel like no one really engages in social media anymore, except to complain or bash other people. Or “cancel” them. It’s definitely not what it used to be, and I don’t know if that’s because of what’s happening right now with the pandemic or because of how we’ve changed as a people. Or maybe it’s just me?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we treat each other; perhaps mistreat is the better word. For all our desires for “self-help” and focusing on living up to our potentials, promising that everyone has a chance, etc. etc., it seems that we’ve come full circle into a culture not of support or positivity, but of complete narcissism. Me, my, I. Look at these people shouting down healthcare workers in the middle of the street; people are putting their lives on the line, and you’re out there screaming in their face because you can’t get a $50 haircut? Who are we, really?
I know, I know. You’re probably reading this thinking, “that’s not me!” And you might be an exception. I might be an exception. A lot of us, I know, love very much and very deeply, and we really do want what’s best for people, not just ourselves. But we are we. This world as it is spinning out of control is spinning out of control because of us, and that includes you and it includes me. We’ve either been too passive, too apathetic, or (some of us — okay, not you and not me) we’ve been too actively antagonistic, selfish, and self-involved. I’m at my wit’s end. I think we’ve reached the end of our human experiment. I think we used up all of our chances. I don’t see a path back from this, really, and the only consolation I have, in the deep, far reaches of my subconscious, are tiny little reminders that other people have felt this way in other very difficult times in human history. That’s the only nod to perspective that I’ll make, because mostly, I feel absolutely helpless and almost completely done with it all. (Sorry, the cheer has gone.)
Hey, that’s not bad for a month’s reading! I just realized, though, that I haven’t touched my BACK TO THE CLASSICS challenge list. Drat! Fortunately, I don’t have to do any re-reading this summer (for courses I’m teaching), because I’ve recently read everything I’m assigning. My general rule is, if I’m assigning it to a class but haven’t read it myself in the last year, then I need to go back and re-read. Anyway, I’ll devote some time and attention to my B2TC list this summer. Maybe I’ll start with Little House on the Prairie. What do you think? (P.S. Did you know Goodreads has added “setting” to the book description area? That’s freaking awesome!)
Currently Reading: Mark Doty’s Fire to Fire (poetry); The Age of Atheists (nonfiction); and just beginning Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer (fiction). I’m almost done with The Age of Atheists and it has been pretty wonderful. Really enlightening, though I feel like it’s just a jumping-off point for a lifetime of learning. Isn’t everything? Doty’s poetry always gets me going and I’ve really been enjoying some of this collection in particular. He has a set of themed poems running through it, too, which will be fun to write about at some later time. And I’m on PAGE 1 of The Water Dancer, so I can’t say much about it except that I’ve been looking forward to it. Have you read it? What did you think?
Currently Listening To: Tegan and Sara, Hey I’m Just Like You (2019). Tegan and Sara are wild and brilliant and fun. They’re one of my favorite bands for good reason, and this, their ninth studio album, is their second-best after their 2004 release, So Jealous. Both albums are of the don’t-skip-a-single-song variety, which is the only kind of album worth listening to, isn’t it? At the moment, I’m spinning, “Don’t Believe the Things They Tell You,” one of the psychologically darker of the album, though just as honest and blunt as every single track on this one. “I don’t want to be a liar / But I do it every day / I don’t want to be so tired / But I can’t sleep any way.” I suppose any song about insomnia pulls at me, but with a haunting melody that reminds one of those three a.m. automatic writing sessions, this one stands out.
Teaching Updates: This is the penultimate week of the semester and I’m ready to breathe one big sigh of relief. There’s been a lot that has been absolutely inspiring about this term and these groups of students, but so much that has been completely and utterly exhausting. I won’t have much time to relax or recover between the time when spring term ends and the summer term begins, but I’ll find a way to use that time wisely. I hope I will, anyway. We’re thinking of moving, and that does not seem like a wise use of the time. Nevada hasn’t decided yet what will happen with schools, though UNLV and UNR seem prepared to open in the fall as usual; I think there may be some modifications, though, like smaller class sizes, hybrid classes, or an abundance of online courses. As for me, I was told that I could plan for whatever would be best for me, and what’s best for me is causing the least possible disruption for my students. And that means I’ll be online.
Current Status: We have 5,491 confirmed cases and 266 deaths. The Governor’s order is set to expire on May 15th but there’s some confusion because he joined the western states’ coalition, which is not prepared to open on the 15th. The Governor himself has said he wants to see a daily decrease in cases for two full weeks before considering reopening, but we’re not seeing daily declines yet. So, what does that mean? I have no idea. I think we will probably begin a very slow/soft reopening based on types of business and even those businesses that do open will probably have to operate under certain conditions that comply with social distancing. I thought I’d be dying for a haircut at this point but, to be honest, I might grow it out for a while. In any case, I’m glad my state is one with a Governor who listens to the scientists and the experts and who tries to do the right thing for peoples’ health and the economy. I just wish we could be doing more to help people in need; from what I understand, our state unemployment system is not even close to keeping up with the demand.
Positive Thoughts: Fine, here’s a nugget: I watched the new Michelle Obama documentary for Becoming this morning. She ends on a message of hope. If she of all people, having been through what she has and treated the way she was, can still be hopeful, then I can try to do the same. At least for a moment, and maybe that’s the only way. Try this moment. And then try again the next.
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For the ink-hearted
an exposition of micro and punk poetry
Dedicated to Emerging Writers
quotes, excerpts and reviews
You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. Octavia E. Butler
My life as a black, disabled teenager
A bookish blog (mostly) about women writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries