“All of us suffer from injustice and intolerance. Instead of being brothers and sisters to each other, we aim guns at each other. When we are overtaken by anger, we think that the only response is to punish the other person. The fire of anger continues to burn in us, and it continues to burn our brothers and sisters. This is the situation of the world, and it is why deep looking is needed to help us understand that all of us are victims.”
Yesterday, I finished reading The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. I found it helpful in two specific ways. First, Hanh does a commendable job of explaining the tenants of Buddhism and its history, including the historical splits and how the different regions took different approaches to the faith/philosophy following the Buddha’s death. Second, Hanh spends a lot of time emphasizing what is important to practitioners of Buddhism, especially mindfulness and The Middle Path. He often clarifies what Buddhism is versus what it is not, in particular noting where Buddhist teachings have been misapplied or misunderstood.
For someone who is new to Buddhism, this book is really an excellent and helpful starting point. I won’t say I understand most of Buddhism, yet. In fact, a lot of the the different components, like The Four Noble Truths, The Five Precepts, and The Eightfold Path, are still pretty confusing to me; however, the book did help me understand these principles on a basic level, to get an idea of the way forward and the general attitude/practice. If nothing else, it provided me with a great deal of impetus for learning more and a number of ways to pursue that learning, whether that be direction to specific texts or guidance to a way of being in and interacting with the world.
It’s hard to review religious texts, but I’m approaching Buddhism more as a philosophy than a faith. It’s different from Taoism, for example, in that there’s no specific expectation of an after-life, deified salvation, or reincarnation, for example, which separates it from a lot of similar religions. Instead, it’s a guide to living peacefully and with kindness, to finding wholeness and balance, and to helping others live their best lives as well. I think this is why the philosophy is resonating so loudly with me; for a long time, I’ve been agnostic who is simply trying his best to be a kind person that lives up to his potential, finds inner-peace, and helps others succeed whenever possible. Buddhism is interesting because it is a similar philosophy, with the strength and community of thousands of years and millions of people supporting it.
I will say, this book seemed to get repetitive after a while, partly because I started to become confused about the more technical teachings. They all seemed similar to me, and I had a difficult time understanding when/how each of them was supposed to apply or be applied. In treating this book as a primer, though, I have to say I am impressed, and I’m eager to read and to learn more. The best parts are Hanh’s personal stories about Vietnam. When he speaks in his own voice about his own experiences, it is beautiful. Hanh has a great deal of texts to his name, covering a variety of topics, and I think it will be beneficial to read specific books about specific ideas, now that I’ve read an overview of Buddhism generally. It might help me connect the dots a little more. To this end, I’ve purchased and will be starting LIVING BUDDHA, LIVING CHRIST, next. I have the 20th-Anniversary edition, and I look forward to beginning it tomorrow.
I’ve also downloaded the free PLUM VILLAGE app for my phone. Hanh’s Plum Village is an actual Buddhist colony (is that the right word? See, still much to learn), and the app provides meditations, songs and chants, lectures based on user’s questions (e.g. “Can we be mindful in a competitive environment?”), readings, contemplations, practices, resources, etc. It’s a really wonderful resource.
“Your purpose is to be yourself. You don’t have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just as you are.”
“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
“Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment.”
“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”
“Usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say that it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing.”
“All of us suffer from injustice and intolerance. Instead of being brothers and sisters to each other, we aim guns at each other. When we are overtaken by anger, we think that the only response is to punish the other person. The fire of anger continues to burn in us, and it continues to burn our brothers and sisters. This is the situation of the world, and it is why deep looking is needed to help us understand that all of us are victims.”
I can’t say much more about what’s happening in our country right now. It’s like speaking into a void, particularly with those still supporting this POTUS.
I realize that might be you, but I can no longer quietly accept your support, for whatever reason, of the man currently occupying our White House. If this offends you, then I accept your right to unsubscribe from my blog, though I’ll be sad to see you go.
I do want to share thoughts that I emailed to someone today, who suggested that the problem with all this gun violence stems from our nation’s loss of civility, separation from traditional values, rejection of God, and treatment of everything as “political.” In effect, this individual placed the blame for these shootings at the foot of the liberal media, pro-choice supporters, and non-Christians, and then suggested it is everyone else who makes these massacres political. This, I cannot abide.
So, here’s where I stand:
“Treat each other civilly” is a wonderful idea. I try to practice it every day. I’ve turned to meditation to help me respond with patience and kindness in a time of total madness, because I agree with the idea that we should be civil. We should be good to each other. But quite frankly, that statement is also an empty token coming from someone who supports this POTUS. Of course we should all be nice to each other. Now, reconcile that, please, with your support for this man. He’s so kind and compassionate? He never calls for violence, never vilifies the other? He is a role model for decorum? His Twitter account and his rallies are joyful manifestations of Jesus’s teachings?
With these platitudes, you speak out of both sides of your mouth. Be a good person, or don’t. People who genuinely want civility and kindness and to live like CHRIST, in truth not just in name, cannot support this president. They cannot. He is not that person. So, maybe it makes you feel better to say you, personally, are a good person and treat others well. In general, I agree with that. I learned a lot about charity and family and friendship from my parents, and that’s where you’re right about part of this–that it matters who we surround ourselves with. But is being good, personally, enough when the world around us is burning because the man you still support is lighting the torches? Civility is an action. Kindness is an action. To sit back and let unkindness happen, is a choice. It’s time to choose better.
I hope you will consider the cognitive dissonance you’ve accepted in your own ideology when you tell me that “people are trying to make it political” while making this argument: “Traditional marriage, traditional family values, and pro-life are what we need. God is what we need.” (P.S. whose values? Whose god? Just yours? P.P.S. How many atheists have you heard of committing mass murder? Hindus? Scientologists, for that matter?). And “anyone who doesn’t believe in these is what’s wrong with our country and is responsible for the condition we’re in.”
In other words, when you don’t agree with someone else’s perspective or way of being in the world, they are being political. But the way you think and feel is, “simply natural” and “getting back to normal.” Why is your normal the normal? Why do you get to define the right way for all of us to live, the right beliefs for all of us to adopt? Do you know how these shooters were raised? Do you know anything about their parents? Do we honestly know anything other than they are white, male, and got their hands on weapons that shouldn’t even exist (excuse me – who needs to own a weapon capable of killing 40 people in under a minute? What kind of sport is that? I think not.) How can you, in other words, suggest that they weren’t raised the right way?
Terrorists are radicalized over time, and they are taught to accept messages that make them feel comfortable, needed, marginalized, and activated. They are taught to hate, and not just by their parents, but by the systems in place that applaud it or refuse to condemn it. Avowed supporter (like the Florida bomber) or not (like the El Paso shooter who seems to have been a white supremacist anyway, at least according to his “manifesto”), the fact is that a cooperative leadership, however subtle, sends the message to these people that it’s okay to go ahead and “take the country back.” That’s the message they’re getting from this president and that’s why the majority of them are white males. They cannot accept that other people have the right to live here, too.
This is the problem with straight white male Christian privilege. (You’re going to think that’s an attack on you. It’s not. But do the math. To solve a problem, we have to understand it. The people committing these atrocities are almost always white males who almost always identify as Christian or who came from a western-Christian background; the KKK? Founded as a Christian organization. In my own understanding of Christianity, these people are obviously not Christians, but something radical IS happening with right-wing Christian extremism and it’s beyond negligent to ignore it.) There’s systemic, institutional racism and sexism running rampant through our civic and governmental systems, there always has been. People are being taught that it is “the other” who is the problem. But this gets progressively worse when black people and immigrants are referred to as vermin, criminals, and animals by the most powerful person in the world. Honestly, what do you think that does to people teetering on the edge? Do you really think this president doesn’t know what he’s doing when he Tweets out that language? When he inspires violence against his adversaries at his rallies? We’ve read the history books — how can we ignore it when it’s happening in our own front yard? You think the press supporting him doesn’t know what they’re doing when they publish the names and addresses of abortion doctors? When the NRA puts images of four minority congresswomen on their advertisement with targets on their heads? There is absolutely a call to violence happening in this country, but you’re ignoring where it really comes from. Why?
This is why a white male shooter who walks into a black church and kills a bunch of people performing a bible study is taken into custody, given a bullet proof vest for his protection, and fed Burger King, while a black man named Philando Castile who is pulled over and complies with the police, tells them outright that he has a license to conceal and there is a concealed weapon in his car, is murdered in front of his wife and child.
This is why a white male who posts anti-Mexican immigrant racist rants online can get his hands on an automatic rifle, kill 20+ people, and be taken alive into custody, but a black man named Eric Garner is choked to death on the sidewalk for selling cigarettes.
These things are happening all the time. It’s easy to look at one case in the news and say, “darn, that’s terrible.” But there is instance after instance after instance of this happening, with no recourse. No one held accountable. Black and brown people are simply not valued the way white men are in this country, and their mis-treatment, even murder, is not taken nearly as seriously as the feelings of white people. I’m a white person who can acknowledge this. It’s not an attack on myself or my life, because I do try to live a good life. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see what’s happening at the macro-level. We have to be able to see this and acknowledge it, and we white people have to be involved in fixing it.
What did you think of Captain Marvel? Black Panther? I hear a lot of people think they were “too political” because they dared to cast a woman and a black man as heroes. Did you walk away from Bohemian Rhapsody when truths about Freddie Mercury were presented on the screen? Do these stories not have a right to exist, too? Why does their presence become “political”? Why isn’t it political that almost every superhero or rock star is assumed to be and always has been presented as straight and white? Are all these “other” people who are getting stories of their own the ones who are being political, really? Or is it the person who is made so uncomfortable by other people finally getting a chance to have a story, that they refuse to listen or watch? (The sky is falling! The sky is falling!)
You think white men are being minimized just because other people get to have a voice. That’s making it political. Life is political. Fighting for one’s life is absolutely political. I encourage you to dig into others’ lives and see what it has been like for them, trying to have what you’ve taken for granted most of yours. The peace of being present and visible in society without fear of molestation or murder. The right to simply participate in public life without being threatened by an angry fragile straight white person who is offended by their existence. It’s been called a “political” act to hold hands with my partner in public. It’s also a death wish. What does my presence in public do to deserve that? How is someone’s fear and hatred stoked that greatly by two people simply being in the world, that they’d kill over it? How many trans people have been killed this year? How many gay couples attacked? How many people who “look” foreign have been stopped, lately, and held without cause and without access to a lawyer? Where is this violence really coming from? I hope you’ll think about it.
I believe this president is a white supremacist and always has been, from the time he got involved in housing to his reaction to the Central Park 5 scandal, to his comments on his “superior genes.” And it’s worse than that. His supporters are enabling him. I hope more than anything right now that you will start to do some genuine research into institutional racism, straight white privilege (that doesn’t mean white people get it easy, that’s another mischaracterization designed to keep people attacking each other rather than the systems in place that hold everyone back), for-profit prisons and the right-wing extremist takeover, including Christian evangelical sharia (yes, that’s what it is) of local governments, school boards, and public media. There’s no liberal bias in the media. That’s some brilliant spin. Research this. Look up the Mercers and the Kochs and the Murdochs, the people who actually own the vast majority of television, newspaper, and news radio outlets. It’s not liberal Hollywood.
If a guy kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem deserves the president’s rage, but an unarmed boy murdered for wearing a hoodie while black somehow deserved what he got, then there’s something happening that you’re not acknowledging.
I believe he is a white supremacist. White supremacist groups support him gleefully. But he’s not the problem. He’s a symptom of the deeper issues I’ve started to outline above. There’s no excuse for being comfortable in this company.
For the last two months, I’ve pursued some themed-reading. This is something I tried a couple of years ago as a year-long project, changing my reading theme every month, but it didn’t quite work. It seems to work better if I choose something just prior to the new month beginning, because it allows me to read what I’m actually interested in in that given moment. So, in June, I read a whole bunch of LGBTQ+ books (most of which were awesome) and in July, I read a lot of poetry and/or books about poetry.
I specifically chose to read poetry this month because I’ve been writing my own young adult novel, and I found that reading creative works that are well outside of the genre I’m writing in helps me to stay motivated and to think about language without getting distracted by works that are too similar in genre, audience, theme, etc. Considering I finished the first draft of my novel yesterday, I’d say this was a good plan!
Here are the works I read in July, with some thoughts:
How to Read Poetry Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster: This is the third in Foster’s “How to Read…” series that I’ve read, after How to Read Novels Like a Professor and How to Read Literature Like a Professor. As always, I find his style approachable, his sense of humor engaging, and the examples plus explantations that he gives very helpful. Poetry has always been the weaker literary genre for me (fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, in that order!), but Foster manages to explain a lot about the basics in a way that makes sense. The other benefit is I’ve added to my reading list quite substantially. I rated this one 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.
Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, edited by Timothy Liu: What an incredible find, this was! Timothy Liu is one of my favorite poets. I’ve been a little obsessed with Asian-American queer male poets lately and recently re-read Liu’s collection, Burnt Offerings, which inspired me to find his other publications. This anthology covers self-identified gay poets writing and publishing in America since about 1900. It’s a hefty tome, but the diversity of style and theme are wonderful. I was introduced to a lot of new-to-me poets, many of whose works were quickly added to my TBR. I also found some of my favorites in this collection, like Dennis Cooper and Mark Doty. It was fun to revisit them, especially in the context of a gay poetry anthology, where one can see the communication that is happening between poets and poets, and between poets and their audiences. I rated this one 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.
Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong: I’ll admit right now that I’ve become obsessed with Ocean Vuong. It’s very strange to me to be a “fanboy” for any living writer (most of my mania is reserved for deceased writers, like Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, John Steinbeck.) The only other living writer I’m so passionate about is probably Joan Didion. That said, Ocean Vuong is giving me everything I need right now, which is to say, an incredibly interesting and poetic exploration of language, life, and all their possibilities and complexities. I read Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, last month and was blown away. Night Skies With Exit Wounds is just as breathtaking. Vuong is one of the most unique, courageous, and honest writers I’ve read recently. I rated this one 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo: This one is a verse novel written as a series of prose poems. It explores the life of a contemporary Dominican-American teenager and her relationship with her very conservative-Christian mother. Verse novels are becoming more and more popular, in large part, I think, due to the successes of Ellen Hopkins, whose stories are compelling and beautifully told. Acevedo’s perspective adds a welcome and refreshing perspective to the genre, and I think it will go a long way to propelling this genre forward. I enjoyed the diary-like entries and the way Acevedo manages to treat the narrator’s road to becoming a poet as a theme in the development of the verses themselves. It’s delightfully meta! I rated this one 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.
A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver: What can you expect from an “On Poetry” book by one of the most recognized and celebrated poetry writers today? It’s an inviting, edifying journey into form, style, history, and all the rules (many of which are meant to be broken.) Reading this one alongside Thomas C. Foster’s turned out to be an incredibly helpful and rewarding experience. They reinforced some of the major ideas, but each took different approaches to the various items of importance for readers and writers of poetry, including the examples they provide. If I could, I would spend an entire semester reading books like this one (and Foster’s). I already feel much more confident reading poetry and will be trying my hand at writing more of it soon. I rated this one 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.
Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen: Reading this one in the same month as Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds was fascinating. Both writers are gay men, both are Vietnamese-American, and both write extensively about their relationship with their mothers. (This is a theme for Acevedo, too, which suddenly makes me want to research the theme of mother/child relationships in American poetry.) Nguyen’s collection is held together by intercalary poems about his white lovers and how his relationship to white men has defined, or ill-defined, him as an Asian-American. Nguyen’s pain, even resentment, brought on by racism and fetishization is strikingly powerful and deeply saddening, but his triumphs are powerful, too. I particularly appreciated the end poem, an exploration of depression that reads like an open wound. I rated this one a 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.
So, I planned to read six books of/about poetry for my personal poetry month, and that’s exactly what I did. I feel accomplished, but even better, I feel inspired. Poetry has always been a little intimidating for me, but I allowed myself to relax into it, to read them as closely as I can, and to give myself a little support with the Foster and Oliver texts. All this to say: I can’t wait to read more poetry, and I can’t wait to write more of it.
Do you like poetry? Have any favorite poets or collections/anthologies I should try?
Today, I’m thrilled to be sharing some exciting news about an upcoming project in support of the release of Margaret Atwood’s THE TESTAMENTS, a long-awaited sequel to the incredibly popular and disturbing THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Many thanks to the publicists for including me in the process.
Have you read THE HANDMAID’S TALE? I know you will be as excited about this event as I am!
Toronto, ON, March 7, 2019 – Fane Productions presents Margaret Atwood live on stage and in cinemas on Tuesday, September 10th in celebration of the global publication of The Testaments, Atwood’s highly anticipated sequel to her seminal work, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas will be broadcast to over 1,000 cinemas across the globe, including cinemas throughout the US, UK and Canada, with delayed screenings planned in Australia and New Zealand. Filmed live from the National Theatre in London, BBC journalist and New York Times best-selling author Samira Ahmed will interview Atwood about her remarkable career, her diverse range of works and why she has returned to her handmaid story, 34 years later. The event, presented in partnership with Equality Now, will include a number of special guests to be announced later this year.
Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas will be broadcast to Cineplex cinemas across Canada.
Cinema tickets go on sale Friday, March 8 at 10AM ET at http://www.margaretatwoodlive.com.
Margaret Atwood says: “I am delighted that the launch of The Testaments will take place not only in London on September 10th, but also by live-streaming to over 1000 cinemas around the world. I can’t be in all the places at once in my analogue body, but I look forward to being with so many readers via the big screen.”
Alex Fane says: “We are thrilled to announce the continuation of our relationship with Margaret. To launch her new novel on an unprecedented global scale feels like a fitting gesture for such an innovative author whose work speaks to so many.”
The publication of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985 and the current, Emmy Award-winning television series have created a cultural phenomenon, as handmaids have become a symbol of women’s rights and a protest of misogyny and oppression. In this brilliant sequel, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalized readers for decades. When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead. Margaret Atwood’s sequel The Testaments picks up the story fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.
‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’ – Margaret Atwood
The Testaments will be published by Penguin Random House and will be released on September 10, 2019.
Fane Productions’ live cinema broadcast is Executive Produced by David Sabel, the creator of National Theatre Live, with BY Experience, the New York based event cinema pioneer, global distribution representative of The Met: Live in HD and the global (ex-UK) distributor of National Theatre Live, distributing to cinemas, ex-UK. UK cinema distribution by National Theatre Live.
Women’s rights, female empowerment and resistance are at the core of Atwood’s story and in partnership with Equality Now these events will take on the issues faced by women in today’s world with vivid imagination and unflinching clarity.
“Equality Now uses a combination of national, regional and international human rights law to secure justice for survivors of discrimination and violence, to hold governments accountable for their promises, and to bring local issues to the attention of human rights bodies. Margaret Atwood’s work has had a huge impact on bringing attention to our cause and we are privileged to be partnering with her on these events.” – Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director, Equality Now
Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her novels include Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and The MaddAddam Trilogy. Her 1985 classic The Handmaid’s Tale went back into the bestseller charts with the election of Donald Trump, when the Handmaids became a symbol of resistance against him; and the 2017 release of the award-winning Channel 4 TV series. Sales of the English language edition have now topped 8 million copies worldwide. Atwood has won numerous awards including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
For more information, interviews or photos, please contact:
Touchwood PR (for Cineplex) Keira Hunt
P: 416-593-0777 X 210
Associate, Communications and Investor Relations
ABOUT FANE PRODUCTIONS
Fane Productions specializes in the production of bespoke live events for leading talent. We work with a diverse range of artists at the top of their respective professions, for whom live work adds an exciting dimension to their principal careers, whilst also acting as agents for other live work such as corporate bookings and keynotes. An innovative and collaborative company, Fane Productions work alongside agents, publishers and producers with a focus on creating dynamic live platforms to present and promote both the client and their work; be that a book, TV series, podcast or other venture. Over 350,000 tickets were sold in its first two years through events with the likes of John le Carré, Margaret Atwood, Nigella Lawson, Dolly Alderton, Stacey Dooley and Grayson Perry. Our programming team run the Sunday nights at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, as well as putting on over 800 shows per year at central London venue, Crazy Coqs, with a mix of music, theatre, cabaret, comedy and literary events in one extraordinary 80 seat venue. Words Weekend – our own take on a literary festival – was launched in November 2018 and the first three festivals will take place at Sage Gateshead, The Lowry in Salford and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. In December 2018 Fane Productions acquired JHI Ltd, a creative marketing company who provide services for live theatre events, both nationally and on an international platform.
ABOUT BY EXPERIENCE
BY Experience, the “live cinema event powerhouse” (Variety) is “in the business of breaking through the barriers posed both by time limitations and space” (Fast Company”). BY Experience pioneered the digital revolution of live events to movie theaters and other locations globally with David Bowie’s 2003 Reality album launch and since then, millions of tickets have been sold worldwide for cinema events BY Experience has distributed globally. Current cinema series credits: Distribution Representative, The Met: Live in HD (Worldwide; since 2006), the UK’s National Theatre Live (ex-UK; since 2009), Bolshoi Ballet (North America; since 2014), Stratford Festival on Film (U.S. 2019) and Great Art on Screen (U.S. 2019). BY Experience has executive produced and/or distributed several diverse programs for cinema including numerous rock concerts, radio programs, fine art exhibits, major studio anniversary events, faith programs, spoken word, and other events. BY Experience distributes to over 75 countries, to over 3,000 movie screens. http://www.byexperience.net.
ABOUT EQUALITY NOW
Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. It’s international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. For more information go to http://www.equalitynow.org.
ABOUT CINEPLEX EVENTS
Cineplex Events brings unique world-class entertainment to theatres across Canada and provides guests with a front-row seat and backstage access. Presented in high-definition with digital surround sound, communities large and small can experience the best in original one-night only and series- based programming from around the globe. Programming includes The Met: Live in HD, Exhibition on Screen, Stratford Festival HD and National Theatre Live, in addition to Broadway productions, concerts, eSports and documentaries. More information is available at Cineplex.com/Events.
Hello, TBR Pile Challengers!
I hope your summer is going well. We are now in the second-half of our annual challenge, and I’ve seen and read a lot of awesome updates and reviews for challenge books. Thank you for sharing!
As promised in June, this month’s checkpoint comes with the third of four planned mini-challenges. I hope you’ll all take the opportunity to play the game and have a little fun. It doesn’t matter how far you are into your challenge, this time! Anyone who pre-registered for our challenge and linked up their list on time, way back in January, can enjoy this one. See below for details.
I made a lot of progress in June, but none in July so far. That’s largely due to the fact that I decided to work on my own writing this summer and, in July specifically, I’m “avoiding” fiction in order to read poetry instead. I’m also starting a project on Buddhism, so I’m reading a lot of that as well. I find that reading poetry while writing my own fiction is helpful in keeping my creative juices flowing without unduly influencing my own work. That said, I’m technically on pace, having read 7 books in 7 months. I hope to sneak in a few more challenge reads before summer ends, to give myself a head start before fall term begins, when I know I’ll struggle to keep up. How are you doing!?
Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!
Have you heard the song, “July, July!” by The Decemberists? You should.
Anyhow, last month was my LGBTQ reading month and it went better than expected. I read a total of 7 books, all of them LGTBQ-themed. This month, I’ve turned my attention to poetry. I’m covering a few different approaches within this larger goal, though. For example, I’m reading two non-fiction texts on poetry and how to read and write it. I’m reading two short collections of poems by individual poets, and I’m reading one anthology. Finally, I will be reading one hybrid novel that contains poetry and is about a young poet.
As I work on my own novel, I find that I’m trying to avoid reading anything else in the genre (LGBTQ YA). I don’t want to be influenced or find myself doubting my abilities. So, instead, I’m pursuing other genres while writing, genres that are far from what I’m doing but still inspiring. I think, when I’ve finished the full draft and move on to edits and revisions, I’ll return to reading within the genre as a kind of research exercise. (“Am I doing what the genre is doing, generally, but in a way that’s unique to me?”)
I’ve become obsessed with Ocean Vuong, after reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. I actually started following him on Instagram before reading any of his work, because I found his aesthetic interesting and had heard good things about him. And then reading him blew my mind to smithereens. I spent the last week reading some of his work in places like The New Yorker, as well as reading a bunch of articles about him in The New Yorker, Interview Magazine, The Paris Review, and Poet & Writer. In the interview with Poet & Writer, he commended his freshman English composition course and the community college experience with providing him a foundation experience, a welcoming and motivational environment in which to work with a diverse group of people, all of whom were there for the same reason: to improve themselves, to achieve a goal, and to fulfill a dream. It was a small but beautiful statement on the power of community college education.
All of this is to say, one of the collections on my reading list this month is Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. I’ll also be reading Hieu Minh Nguyen’s Not Here (incidentally, I picked up a copy of John Okada’s No-No Boy recently as well, inspired by the disgusting concentration camps our government is operating, dysfunctionally, at the southern border.) I guess I’m on some kind of thematic kick for Asian-American writing.
The others on my list this month include the two I am reading right now: Thomas C. Foster’s How To Read Poetry Like a Professor and Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, edited by Timothy Liu (whose collection, Burnt Offerings, is a personal favorite). I’m half-way through both of these, and I’m really enjoying them. The anthology is particularly interesting because most of the included poets are new to me.
After the Foster, I plan to read Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. When I finish the anthology and two poetry collections on my list, I will be completing the month’s project with Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X.
Speaking of writing: It has been going generally well. I joined Camp NaNoWriMo this month, which is like the regular NaNoWriMo except you can adjust your goal, create cabins to collaborate with others, work on any kind of writing you want (even though it’s an off-shoot of National Novel Writing Month in November, this one is really meant to get you writing whatever you want). The social media accounts also run regular “word sprints” to encourage people to sit and write, as well as offering up a variety of prompts, e-mailed encouragement, etc. My current stats on this WIP are as follows:
I’ve been averaging about one chapter a day. I get up early in the morning and head to “my spot,” which is the same spot I used for my 100 Days Journal project. I’ve found that creating and inhabiting one’s own writing space is crucial. Yesterday, after a sleepless night (thanks, insomnia!), I couldn’t get up to write. I tried later in the day and managed only about 1,000 words (about 25-30% of normal) and that was writing additions to a scene in a previous chapter, rather than working on a new chapter. I sat there staring at the “Chapter 11” header, at 2 in the afternoon, and simply couldn’t get anything onto the page. I guess I need my routine. (Is this what they mean by “creature of habit?”)
This morning, though, I managed to get up on time (despite another sleepless night) and got the chapter done. I’m happy with this pace and progress. If I can maintain it, then I’ll have a complete draft done by the end of July and can work on revisions and edits as the new school year begins, when the opportunity for new writing is, let’s face it, not readily available. I get too tired and too burned out from lecturing, grading essays, attending meetings and trainings, etc. I do plan to keep my mornings for myself, though, but rather than working on a lot of new material, I’ll probably be revising and editing, revising and editing. I guess this means, sometime around August I’ll be looking for beta readers. How does one go about doing that, anyway? And what about finding an agent? When is that supposed to happen? How does that happen? Oh dear.
Part of the reason I began my 100 Days Journal project about 4 months ago is that, in addition to wanting to “force” myself into a daily writing routine, I found I had been struggling with severe depression all year. Since about January, I’ve been in a slump. It’s not unusual for me to have ups-and-downs, but this was a long one, and that “light at the end of the tunnel” we who suffer from depression come to rely on, just wasn’t showing up. Not even a little pinpoint in the distance. I didn’t know what was taking so long to come out of it at the time, but I have my thoughts now. In any case, one of the things I’ve realized is that I’ve been craving a kind of reckoning with myself and my beliefs, for lack of a better word. I’m an emotional and spiritual person, though agnostic and anti-religion. Still, I do always, always look for connections. The bigger picture. The threads that connect all of us. I’m a hopeful person, I guess, and so part of my struggle lately has been finding hope in a time that seems hopeless, perhaps not even worth hoping for. As I thought about what might help me investigate myself and find renewed purpose, I started to learn a little more about Buddhism. Here’s what I wrote on Twitter:
Do I have any practicing Buddhist friends who would be willing to point me to good places to start my reading? History, tenants, meditation, zen, beginners guides? I can look up lists online, but I’d rather have personal recommendations from people living the path. To be honest, I’m looking to connect with myself spiritually, to understand and articulate my own value system. I need a philosophy or “faith,” for lack of a better word, that is without deity, and Buddhism is the closest practice I know of, currently. At my core, I’ve a desire to be driven by kindness and generosity. I’ve seen a lot about Buddhism’s mindful approach to acting and reacting with love. That’s the sort of thing I want to get better at, particularly now when, let’s face it, there’s a revolution of hate happening. Ultimately, even Buddhism might not be for me. It’s possible that no established “religion” will be. But I’d like to learn more about it anyway.
I received some excellent and helpful suggestions, as well as inspiring and motivational comments and conversations. I also discovered that some of my Twitter connections are practicing Buddhists, though I never knew it. What a world of possibilities and revelations can open to us, if only we have the courage to ask! I’ve begun my journey with The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh. So far, it is resonating with me. His style is warm and to the point. He explains a lot of how the history of Buddhism has been corrupted or altered (inadvertently or intentionally), and then gets into the tenants and philosophies, including what they mean and how to practice them independently. I’m excited to continue learning more, and I’ll probably stick with Hanh’s texts for now, though I also hear good things about Pema Chodron. Am I a Buddhist? I don’t know. I take a lot from Christ’s teachings, too, but I cannot be Christian (ask me about that some other time). It may end up the same with Buddhism, though something about this experience so far, and the embracing of human philosophy rather than the supernatural, is appealing to me.
Take a breath, and onward.
I wrap-up my Pride Month reading with two final pieces of fiction, one a classic adult novel of lesbian literature, the other a young adult novel inspired by Walt Whitman. Please feel free to check out the rest of my pride month reads. I had planned to read 5 LGBTQ books this month but managed to read 7, and I wasn’t disappointed at all!
Jane DeLynn’s novel, Don Juan in the Village (1990), is a classic of lesbian fiction. It follows the escapades and sexual conquests of its female protagonist, a lady Don Juan, as she travels the world and sleeps with as many women as she can. The narrative spans the course of 20 years, beginning sometime in the 1970s and ending sometime in the 1990s. There is a clear and stark, sometimes painful, contrast between the freedom of the post-1960s sexual revolution and the advent of what the narrator labels, “the plague.”
Each chapter is titled with the name of a different place to which the protagonist travels. Within, she describes not just the place she is visiting, but the women—and types of women—she meets there and makes love to. These experiences range from the soft and sensual to the nearly sadistic, but in any case, the narrator is almost always “very wet.” Yes, indeed, the story is that bold, that graphic, that open about sexuality, and female sexuality in particular. As a gay male, these experiences are about as far removed from my own as is possible, and yet the importance of this kind of text, particularly in the cannon of LGBTQ+ fiction, particularly in the canon of women’s literature, and particularly at a time when AIDS was devastating the gay community, is not lost on me.
So, while the writing style did not particularly appeal to me (rather dry, like a kind of Gertrude Stein meeting Ernest Hemingway at the middle of an intersection), it also makes sense: what better way to share taboo experiences to the widest range of readers as possible than in a clinically modernist way, as if “these are the facts, and if you can’t handle them, you’re the problem.” So, upon consideration, it’s an incredibly smart approach by an obviously talented writer. I think many readers will respond to this one, though it wasn’t right for me. That said, readers of LGBTQ fiction and those interested in LGBT literary history, as I am, should not pass it up.
Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes (2019) is one of those rare novels that catches my attention right away, keeps it word-for-word, line-for-line, and page-by-page, and then upends everything just as I’m wondering if I could possibly love a book more. Somewhere about 75% into the novel (no, let’s be honest, I counted the pages and it was exactly 75% of the way in), the story takes an unexpected turn, one that I was not prepared for and one that I did not appreciate. It felt like my world was shattering. I understand how hyperbolic that must sound. IT’S JUST A BOOK, MAN, you’re probably thinking. Except that’s just it. This wasn’t just a book. This novel, these two young Whitman lovers, these two young Walt Whitmans, indeed, are much bigger than a story.
The novel is told in epistolary form, as a series of letters written between two high school boys, a sophomore and a senior. They are given an assignment to write to each other, typically with some kind of prompt from their English teacher. As they are in different classes, of different ages, and in wildly different social circles, they had never spoken to each other before, though they each knew who the other one is. This is because, in their own way, they are both wildly inconspicuous. What begins as a series of assigned letters, though, quickly drifts away from a mandatory task and into true, good old-fashioned letter-writing. Henstra adroitly creates two different styles and voices that match the two different teenage protagonists.
One struggle is that, given the design, the boys must re-tell each other the events to which they were both a party (otherwise, how would the reader know about them?) That said, even the author recognizes this complication and manages to address it through the characters’ letters as well. This is perhaps the only place where the author’s identity (or narrator’s, if we want to be more academic) can be felt. That said, a benefit to this is that the boys recount their shared experiences from their own perspectives, which turns out to be revealing to the reader, but also to the other person involved. A significant question that comes about, then, is how much can we really know another person?
I won’t reveal what happens at that three-quarter mark, except to say that it crushed me. The book resolves in a mostly satisfactory way, in my opinion, but I personally had been so distraught over the major conflict, that I was—I still am—left reeling. In a way, this speaks to the brilliance of Whitman, first of all, and to the brilliance of this novel and its characters, too. Upon reflection, I realize that Adam Kurlansky is deeper and more complex than he is given credit, and far crueler than I am or could ever be. I realize that Jonathan Hopkirk is stronger and more flawed than he seems, and far more forgiving than I am ore ever could be. And so, in this way, the point is proven: they do contain multitudes. We all do. The poetry is the point, and the poetry is in us all.
I haven’t felt this connected to Whitman or to myself since, well, since reading Whitman. It is not without its pains, nor without its fearsome joys. When I finished reading, I could only think of Whitman’s poem, “To You,” which, unless I’m mistaken, does not make an appearance in this novel. And yet…
Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you. O I have been dilatory and dumb,
I should have made my way straight to you long ago,
I should have blabb’d nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you.
-Excerpt, “To You” (Walt Whitman)
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