Join me!

It’s been a while. 

I’m trying something new. (Doing a thing). In the ways of this thing, I will be writing letters from my interwebs to yours via email.  Because I can’t keep up with stamps, and I can’t manage a blog while educating young minds and writing, this is what I’d like to give. 

If you want to come on this new journey (I would love that), you can find me at Hokey Pokey Field Guide

I miss you. 

NEWSDAY TUESDAY (back in action).

 

I’m of two ways about this court punishment that we’ll talk about today.

From the human perspective, I’m all about this punishment right here.  For a summary of the article: five teens were given a reading books punishment for vandalizing an old building with Swastikas and “White Power.”  The “old building” was the original “Ashburn Colored School” which makes the boys’ vandalism that much more disgusting.

Their punishment from a judge (the judge’s mother is a librarian):

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Thanks, CNN. 

What I didn’t appreciate about this article was that the attorney said the boys, “didn’t know what they were doing” and they were “just pranksters.”  Nah, fam.  That’s unacceptable today.  In Common Core, WWII is mentioned multiple times, across grade levels and depths.  I did everything I could to get Maus or Night into my lessons every year I taught 9th or 10th grade English.  I harped over plans using Primo Levi’s poetry every year and my students came in with a range of knowledge on the Holocaust.

However, saying that these boys were “pranksters” is unacceptable when they blatantly disrespected, not only the African American students that attended and supported that school, but African Americans of today and the past, and also every Holocaust victim and survivor.  Oh, and we should probably mention every non-white person ever.  They knew exactly what they were doing.

Let’s not sugar coat for the good ol’ white boys. 

I’m real sick of the phrase “boys will be boys” with all of it’s root depth.

This isn’t even the reason I chose to write about this for Newsday Tuesday.  While I believe this is a phenomenal punishment that has the ability to open doors for these boys across cultures, schisms, and clearly blurred lines, I also just think back to the idea of punishment and the affect of rewards and punishment on the psyche.

I never punished a child with writing in my classroom. Because by making writing a punishment, it immediately eliminates it as a value.  I encouraged my sister-in-law to stop using handwriting practice to punish my nephew because by making it something he’s disciplined with, he will never connect in his brain that this is a privilege, a right, an honor, a truly noble act of putting words on a page.

We’ve all heard the stories of having to write the same sentence over and over as a punishment.  Heck, Harry Potter had to write the sentence with his own blood.

This has been scientifically proven to be a bad idea.  I fear the same is true for reading.  Right now, our students live in a culture where neither reading or writing are valued.  Kids come into my classroom every year and announce, “I HATE reading” on the first day and my job as a teacher is to slowly chip away at this notion.  I do it in numerous ways, like all teachers, in hopes that by the end of the year, each child has found at least one redeeming quality about being a book nerd.

There have been countless articles about the amount of television the POTUS watches and the very few articles, and books, he reads.  He has even come out and said he doesn’t read. I wouldn’t go as far to say he isn’t “intellectual” because he doesn’t read, because come on, that’s a ridiculous blow, but I think reading brings about a certain level of humanity to a person’s world.  I’m sure there are brilliant math minds, or science minds out there that don’t value the beautiful poetics of Sylvia Plath, or Shakespeare, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t intellectual, or that they don’t see the essential worth of reading a good book, or a poignant political poem, or a well-said essay.

We also live in a world of “instant gratification.”  When you can watch a thirty minute show and feel entertained, it takes students a lot more patience, and a lot more long-term thought to follow a book through to finish.  Just think about the pacing of a novel, not everything is packed with action and not everything is meant to drive the story.  Sometimes those small moments are the most meaningful for the reader, but have little to no affect on the plot.  Without the value of books, where are our students learning empathy? And how can we push them to understand that books have both entertainment value and worldly value.  I’m not sure that’s through punishment.

While this punishment is going to open these boys up to new worlds, new ways of thinking, and *fingers crossed* new perspectives on their water, and the lives of those that also exist in the world, it might not keep them reading, or sustain the habit. The intrinsic value of reading a good, good book, might be missing here.  I worry that training these boys to see reading as only a means to finish a court sentence will make them even less likely to take these books (and the stories within) seriously.  I hope that some of their essays about each book get around to the news channels as well.  I would like to know the scope to which they take to each book, the corners-turned, the pages dog-eared and quoted, and the means with which they use the author’s words.

Yet again, here’s to hoping. Join the debate on Baby Center if you’re feeling heated. People are doing punishments in Iran like this one too.  Reddit also got a tiny (HA) discussion going on this one.

(Side note: I literally got distracted by a Tweet while writing this.  Today is Sylvia Plath’s death anniversary and someone tweeted that a new book of her letters is forthcoming, but didn’t tweet the publisher so I could ask for an ARC. BAH.  Then I spent like ten minutes googling and I think it’s Faber & Faber).

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.

Readathons: DiverseAThon

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

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Twitter Chats: DiverseAThon

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Pie Graph from The Rumpus / Roxanne Gay

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

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

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

 

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

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

“There Are Great Holes in Your Newspapers. Nobody Sees Them. God Sees Them”

Because I need a few more days to mull over what I’m going to say about the new President on this blog, I thought I could review one of my already favorite books of the year.

News25817493 of the World by Paulette Jiles was a quiet simmer, a rustle, a murmur. I hadn’t read anything about it other than it was a finalist for the National Book Award and that there were 73 people on the library waiting list before me.  That’s an accurate portrayal, not a fudged number.  I can tell now, why, and why it has such a catastrophically high Goodreads score.  Usually, even my favorite books tap out at 3.2, maybe 3.4 if there’s an influx of smart, beautiful readers, but typically all books stay average, even the good ones.  (I don’t have any stats on this, this is just sheer user interpretation).

Right now, News of the World has a 4.23 star score on Goodreads. I’m going to make the argument that it’s all about the characters (and then the setting, and then the pacing, and then the softness, in that order).  There’s two main characters and then a handful of townspeople that we meet as they travel through Texas.  The two main characters are Cho-Henna and Kep-Dun.  Captain Kidd is a former military messenger and Johanna is a girl who was captured by the Kiowa Tribe at a young age and only knows that life.  However, at the beginning of the book, Kidd accepts guardianship of returning her to what’s left of her family (an aunt and uncle) and thus the book begins.

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Map of Civil War Sites in Texas (Fort Tours)

The entirety of this book is their journey on just a few roads. Kidd is stopping in towns to read the news from local and international papers, a former print shop owner, he likes to create fairytales of far-off places in the minds of Texans, and while doing that he teaches Cho-Henna a few “house rules” without changing who she is at the core.  I fell in love with both of these characters.  By the end of the book, I could actually hear the peep of Cho-Henna’s voice saying “Kep-Dun” from behind a flour barrel, or underneath a blanket.

She was so quiet, almost silent, and yet the sound of her stays with me.  It wasn’t the voice of the character that was so moving in this book, it was the subtle sounds of everyday life that she made.  The way she patted the captains arm, or handed him dimes to be used as bullets, or ripped the lace from her skirt.  Those sounds that create a live-action movie in the reader’s heads.  I knew that countryside while I was riding, and although we had to listen for the sounds of danger, it was so easy being with Captain Kidd and Johanna just a little while longer.  I feel the same soft spot for Johanna that Kidd grows in this story.

And although we know from the beginning that this will end tied with a bow, I don’t fault Jiles for the conclusion being that neat.  This was a feel-good story from the very beginning.  I eased through the way Captain Kidd treated Johanna like she didn’t need to be anyone but herself in order to get along in the world.  He could only teach her this through his own ways of being in the world, just a visitor, always in motion, and always with a message.  At one point, he thinks the following:

“Maybe life is just carrying news. Surviving to carry the news.  Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed” (121).

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BFG and Dreams

I think this was just the most perfect instance of how life is made.  Whether we’re Captain Jeffrey Kidd making life after the Civil War, or we’re a child with two visions of the world that collide and collapse at random.  I’ve harped about this idea of purpose for the last several months.  I’m a pray-er, I don’t know what you guys believe, or what religious doctrine you follow, if any, but I like to send open words out into the air and hope someone is catching them (kind of like The BFG and dreams).

For a long while, every time I prayed about being a teacher, I got a solidified answer as to why I needed to keep doing it.  Even in my most desperate, cry on the side of the bed as I slide down the post, moments.  Where a whole tissue box wasn’t enough, and neither was the constant heaving, I got a sign the next day, or a word, or a moment.  When I decided to quit teaching, those signs that I was holding like small weapons against any stray ideas, went dark.  I couldn’t find anything telling me to “just keep swimming.”  I was carrying a message, but I didn’t think it was the right one anymore.

I’ve had a lot of nights where I manically mindmap my purpose.  Where I talk to myself about podcasts, and blogging, and editing, and reading, and making life. Not making a living, but just making life. I’ve tried to find goals and make them into something.  Truth be told, I’m lost as hell. But with all of that, I’m also in a moment of creation.

“To go through our first creation is a turning of the soul we hope toward the light, out of the animal world.  God be with us.  To go through another tears all the making of the first creation and sometimes it falls to bits” (56).

bigstock_failure_grunge_text_3728194-1In situations like this there’s that constant nag of failure.  It creates a lot of fear.  And that’s what wasn’t in this book.  Neither character was tied to a certain message, a certain town or person or purpose.  Both were just between living.  Sure, their road had an end.  Captain Kidd had a goal and a $50 gold coin to show for it.  He had a mission for Johanna that wasn’t of her choosing, but was still a mission they both partook.  And so maybe, it’s corny, but maybe it’s true – it’s about the journey.  I know this book was.

This was one of those moments where I hit the just right book at the just right time.  So what if the goal isn’t clear? So what if we’re reinventing all the time? If people know us as a chameleon or a lover of adventure or just someone that can’t stay focused? So what? Make life.  Make it with people who don’t have to speak because the thud of their feet in the hallway and the click of a radio button and the morning voices of Mike & Mike  are the only reconciliation you need. (Thanks, Beej).  This is true for these two characters and I would argue that it’s true for most of us.  If we gave up speaking, we would still make love with sounds.  If we lost our voices, we would still show pity, embarrassment, joy with the soft strokes of being human.

28119237News of the World is that subtle reminder that we all need.  I highly recommend this read because it will seriously melt your heart.  In many book clubs they’re recommending it be paired with Tribe by Sebastian Junger. I’m going to try to get my hands on a copy of that next.  Get both from the library and dog-ear every page you love for the next person.  Leave that muted symbol, imagine the rubbed sound of crisped page against their thumb.

You’ve Reached: My Feminist Agenda

THE GREAT GATSBY, from left: Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, 2013.I’ve always been on that weird middle line with feminism where I can’t jump over the fence and burn my bras because those things are DAMN expensive and sometimes kind of pretty, but I also am definitely not on the side of “all girls should sit and be pretty.” I can’t say that I’ve always been on the side of women, I’ve talked my fair share of smack and I’ve always kind of felt (and always loathed) Daisy in Great Gatsby:

“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'”

Some of my judgment: For too long we’ve lived in a world where women who play dumb and look pretty get ahead. It doesn’t matter if they’re legacy makers in every right (See: Kim Kardashian or Jessica Simpson), but the way women are still supposed to portray themselves for the public is to be just what Daisy said.  What these woman actually are, are bosses. Big men on campus, but it’s the “beautiful little fools” they play.

61w6r0fl1wl-_sx329_bo1204203200_After reading You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent, I have to agree that it isn’t my call to judge them for how or what they present, but what they can represent for feminism and girls everywhere. Nugent says “There are other words, too.  Bossy. Bitchy. Rude. Fat. Ugly. Stupid. Whore. I used these words when I had an agenda.  I was always looking for ways to frame other women in a way that made me seem better and more appealing.  I was a cool girl, not her, don’t you see?”  And for the record, I don’t just mean girls who are born biologically girls, but also the ones who decide / choose to come to the dark side as well.  You’re all girls in my Barbie World.

I loved this essay collection like it was a time-tested musical number or a Pablo Neruda ode. Nugent didn’t have to shout at us with her torch and teeth barred, instead she spoke feminism like a soft wave from a wet kayak.  One chapter would have the punch of lemoncello and the next would be a little quieter, but just as brave and equally meaningful.  Towards the end of the book she smacks the reader around with her to do lists on masturbation and porn, but in the middle, the soft stuff like female friendships (that are never, ever soft by the way) and virginity are breached.

mac-the-matte-lip-1When everyone else in a girl’s life is silent on these topics, Nugent is educated and sassy.  I tweeted multiple times about stalking her and becoming real friends.  One imagining even got very real: we were in the grocery store, knocking on cantaloupes because aren’t they one of those fruits when you just never know the ripeness?  Some people flick, some people tap, some squeeze slightly like the first time you touched Nickelodeon Gak, but Nugent and I, we are two in the same.  With full chapters on lipstick and the haven’s of bliss that are women’s restrooms in a crowded club (other than the pukers and the ones that have to hold their hair), I couldn’t get enough of Nugent’s perspective on feminism.

yourresponsetomybodyIn her world, and mine now that I can stop secretly torturing myself for “Hm”ing every time a dude makes a mild sexist joke, feminists can make mistakes.  They can disagree, but support all the same.  They can understand their bodies, their moral lines, but also accept everyone else’s bodies and moral lines. I finally get what all the tweets are talking about when they bash Teen Vogue or Cosmopolitan for “fat-shaming.” To be a feminist, it doesn’t mean you have to be pure as a saint or reeking of sex 23/7 (no one can have sex for an entire day, we’d all die a slow and maybe only half painful death).  It means that you – at the bottom of everything – you have to believe in other women, and believe they should get the same treatment as any man.

That means it’s okay to suck at that too sometimes.  It doesn’t mean you have to show a nipple once in a while and it doesn’t mean that you have to have a vagina pin on your backpack and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be angry with all the dudes in your life, because some of them are kind of cute, ya know? In Nugent’s feminism, you just have to be knowledgable and accepting.

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635891019852257512-1248180650_il_fullxfull-367509095_dltlI literally, full-on, laughed out loud at work reading this book.  And it wasn’t a cute laugh, it was one of those wide mouth laughs that has you burying your face into your elbow while people kind of stare at you. To the point where I had to almost make up a reason that something would be that funny in a book.  It was.  It totally was.  I almost cried a little bit too, but mostly I laughed.  A lot.  Nugent’s voice is like listening to your girlfriend tell you a drunken story except she’s really smart so it still sounds smart, but there’s tangents of nonsense and hilarity.

I texted my best friends paragraphs of text from this book.  We joked for a few minutes about how much she “knows” us.  This is one of those girl’s girl books. If that’s not enough to pick it up and read it, I don’t know what else to tell you.  I especially liked the chapter on losing your virginity because I think someone needed to say it.

It opens:

“I did not lose my virginity.  I know exactly where it went.  It went on top of a futon in a basement that you could enter through a sliding door.  Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a landmass that Columbus entered and then ruined.  Nobody took my virginity, because my virginity wasn’t a number-two pencil somebody asked to borrow during a Scantron test and never gave back.  Nobody took my virginity at all.  I had sex for the first time in a condo with a sarcastic dude whom I sort of liked.  I don’t feel like this is a sad story.

mjaxnc02zdk3ntg1ztzhogvmztdjIt’s enough to feel shame about your public smile, about the way you look in a tankini, about the amount of tortilla chips you ate for … linner. It’s enough.  It’s enough to feel shame of not living up to parental expectations of “being a good girl.”  No one needs to feel shame for the way they use their body if they wanted to.  If there were 2+ consenting adults and they chose to make moves.  My religion makes me feel some shame, I think it comes with the Catholicism though and so I accept it as part of the “Catholic guilt.”  I can’t save anyone from that because it’s a lingering sort.

What Nugent can save you from is digging holes against other women (or just people) and burying yourself.  She can save you from judging someone’s past because it doesn’t match up with their present, or judging someone period because your idea of “rightness” does not align with there idea of “learning.”

Everyone always says, “think before you speak.” Maybe instead we should be saying, SPEAK. and in equal measure LISTEN, and while you’re listening don’t judge, degrade, downgrade, take back to another dinner table and spill about with giggles. Support your fellow woman and make good decisions. When they aren’t good, own them and learn.

That’s a feminist if I ever saw one. (Except I haven’t seen her even though we could totally be best friends.  This is definitely an awkward “Call Me, Maybe” moment that I will own and learn from).

PS. I kind of also wrote about Nugent’s book here when I went on a rant in support of Planned Parenthood.

True Life: #bookstagram

There’s some odd wonderings that have come from the world of #bookstagram.  You know the world: lots of latte art, white comforters, plaid scarves, unfinished oak tables, quote pillows, and fat mugs.

At least that’s if you’re not one of those #bookstagrammers who sets up a whole scene with Christmas lights in the right season, or plastic fall leaves, all the things you wouldn’t grab if your house was on fire. Most of these people awe me daily with the way they present their books and their tiny details.  I wonder what percentage of them become decorators, architects, designers, or other creative pursuits.

#Bookstagram is extreme.  Your success doesn’t amount to how much you read, or even how much you blog, but really who notices and why.  It’s the same with most careers, the more important people you know, the better your network.

So, here’s a list for an episode of MTV’s True Life: I’m a #bookstagram(mer).  Or just a general list of what’s trending and what’s successful in the #bookish world to date.

BYOB (Be your own barista) OR you live within .2 miles of a fancy coffee shop that costs you approximately $34 a week:

*If you hover over the images, it will show you who to follow.

I love latte art like the next gal.  And I’m totally guilty of making my latte cocky with too many selfies, but when you have a great barista, and your latte looks like a rose’s cheek, then you can’t help yourself.  However, I also work everyday and although I just recently changed jobs to one where I could go sit in a cafe during my lunch break, (which I’m totally going to do because my jealousy of this latte art is at a high level), I understand if the average #bookstagrammer can’t manage this trend. Here’s a helpful coffeetube.

The mystery of the white comforter / white corner / white table (A Nancy Drew collectible):

White walls used to be for the insane, but who says #bookstagram isn’t crazy? I live in fear of accidentally (and totally) buying a white comforter for these shots only to spill immense amounts of coffee (and let’s be honest cheese) on it. I’m clearly the only one.

You need a window. Get a window. TO THE WINDOW, TO THE WALL:

Natural light goes a LONG way in the Bookstagram world, you know, window to the soul and all that.

Say it with a view:

Everyone has to vacay … not this crowd.  Stop on the beach and hold up a book.  In the snowy mountains skiing, no problem, a book fits perfectly in that inner, inner, deep layer of your third sweater in.

Hoard Trinkets:

I would just make a plain and total mess of this, but @foldedpagesdistillery knocks it out of the park every. single. time.

Color Coordinate: 

Guilty as charged.

Open Up a Little:

We have to prove we’re actually reading somehow, don’t we?

Bookstagram is a cheeky business.  Newcomers are coming on daily and they may have better light in their house, bigger windows, a cheaper coffee house than F.R.I.E.N.D.S (and that one was pretty much free while Jen was there). There are big names in the game like @igreads and people who have gotten jobs at publishing houses because they’re book-famous.  Gain 40k followers, get your dream job.  We live in a strange world folks, but #bookstagram is always there to make you question your lifestyle choices and how too few books you’re reading for that inevitable Goodreads Challenge.

I need to start a new hashtag like #bookoff for when I just want to post a picture of the Beej without any books (or cats).  But you can’t. Bookstagram doesn’t rest, and neither should you.

Categorizing My Book Reading: Not as boring as you’d think.

Happy New Year, everybody! Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots… just kidding. It’s more like bed, bed, bed, bed! In fact, Fro and I are writing this quick blog from the bed where breakfast was also had this morning, along with list making, and the finishing of my first book of the year, Calamity Leek.  

I’m here to talk about my bookish journey for this year. Why not start this on the very first day.  You know, goals and shit.  I’ve broken my books for the year into five categories because what better use of your time than to make unneeded lists? My plan, thanks to Claire, is to read 52 books.  And yes, I already submitted this number to the Goodreads deities and will be kicking myself in four months because I’m two books behind.

Anyway, my categories will have me reading with purpose and if I’m lucky, a little exhilaration.  I believe this is just the kick I need to never be books behind, but instead be books ahead.  Plus, I’m picking up a few audiobooks for my drives to work so those will add to my number. I feel like a middle school girl with a list of boys she’s kissed talking about “my number.”

The first category my books this year will fall under is my Word of the Year. I wrote about my journey to this word on Almost an Independent Clause. This is my “lifestyle” blog because that’s the term we’re using in the world at the moment. WAH.

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This category will consist of books that will make me want to be more TEND(ER) because that’s my word/s of the year. I already have some names and titles for this list, but would LOVE to know recommendations in the comments that I can add to it. I especially need fiction titles.

  1. Rebecca Solnit titles, I’m starting with A Field Guide to Getting Lost
  2. Please Don’t Eat the DaisesJean Kerr
  3. 20-Something, 20 EverythingChristine Hasser
  4. All things by Lynda Berry (I read Syllabus last year and it changed the way I taught).
  5. All things Anne Lamott because if anyone can make me shut up and write, it’s Anne Lamott.
  6. My Journey Through War and PeaceMelissa Bunch

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51zbbuqw2bjlI’ve been writing this blog for six years and I’ve only published one set of poems outside of it.  My big dreams of working my way through an MFA are kind of, and really terrifyingly coming to fruition this year, at least on my part.  I’ve started sitting down to write every single day, in a routine, in a notebook.  I write, then type whatever I wrote and highlight the parts that move me outside of the poem and then I go to the next day.  I haven’t quite figured out my revision process yet, but I’ve started pursuing writing daily, sometimes multiple times a day.  And I’m not talking about blog writing, but writing. Poetry and essays.  I had a good cry about all of this several times last month. It’s scary when you decide to go for your dreams, I get why so many people don’t. But this leads me to having a category on writing.

So here’s my list so far for that:

  1. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  2. Essays of E.B. White
  3.  Women Will Save the World – Carolina A Shearer
  4. The White Album – Joan Didion
  5. George Orwell’s all the things
  6. Uprooted: An Anthology
  7. Annie Dillard all the things
  8. Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation by Tom Bissel
  9. Kurt Vonnegut all the things
  10. Aldous Huxley Essays
  11. The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
  12. First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
  13. I Feel Bad About My Neck – Ephron
  14. Mary Karr all the things
  15. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Funny thing is that people have already introduced me to a lot of these books, but I have just neglected them to some dust corner of a bookshelf, or book pile near a chair in the house.  Seth has sent me First They Killed My Father and my Mom has purchased a lot of these books for me over the years.   I could write a whole blog on how and when and why people come to the books that they do, but that would be another time.

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This is where you come in lovely people of the blogging community.  My best friend Nat gives no shortness of YA reads for me, but I think it’s only right that I take a bunch of recommendations from all the readers that I love and trust, and I start damn reading them.  And I’m not talking about the books that we see everywhere, all flashy, across Instagram stories, but the ones that moved your soul.  The ones that linger or stayed with you for months afterwards. I want those.

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The Anti-library: because I own probably over 1,000 books and because like Umberto Eco, I believe it’s more valuable to own more books you’ve never read.  So, I’m dedicating my time to reading some of those.  I need to be a little more Belle on the library ladder if you know what I mean.

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Quail Ridge is my favorite. 

So, this category is the last and stems from my desperate Google search for a children’s book that I saw in Quail Ridge Books months ago. BJ was in the middle of checking out and I stepped into the children’s section for a little feel good moment and came straight to this book. It’s called (and don’t laugh because it’s ironic) Child of Books. We were going to be late for trivia if I waited in line so I took pictures of the pages and thought about that book for months.  For Christmas I got an Amazon gift card and I purchased that book in the haul because it spoke to me.  My Mom always talks about art speaking to her and that’s why she can’t buy art for my house, but that’s the way some books come calling.  I don’t make a habit of reading children’s books, although I probably should because they’re pure magic and I found 298,734 more that I wanted to read on Amazon last night while trying to find the name and title of this children’s book, but I don’t. So, there’s a splurge and a reason for this category.

Let’s be honest, guys. I can make any book fit into any of these categories, but I want to have them categorized because I need that purpose for my reading.  How do you organize your reading? Is it just based on whatever you come to in the bookstore? Or maybe you have dedicated yourself to no longer shopping for books because you’ll read exactly what’s on the shelf at home. Whatever it is, share below! I’m always flexible and you may make me change my ways.