Things that Keep Me Living: A Poem About My Rights by June Jordan

This poem got me through some tough times before, and it’s still a little lantern of one black woman’s rage and survival:

Even tonight and I need to take a walk and clear
my head about this poem about why I can’t
go out without changing my clothes my shoes
my body posture my gender identity my age
my status as a woman alone in the evening/
alone on the streets/alone not being the point/
the point being that I can’t do what I want
to do with my own body because I am the wrong
sex the wrong age the wrong skin and
go to Poetry Foundation for the rest of it or listen to June Jordan herself recite it.

What I’ve been reading: The Obelisk Gate and Orleans

obelisk-gateThe Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin. I thought The Fifth Season was one of the most exciting books to come out in the SFF genre in a long time, both thematically and from a craft perspective. It was also one of the most emotionally challenging books I had read in a long time for many obvious reasons, but the hardest part for me were the descriptions of child abuse. It would be hard to top all of that, and I don’t think The Obelisk Gate managed. I also had to put it down for a long time because of something Essun does fairly late in the book. I could deal with her being a mass murderer several times over, but not this very intimate betrayal. More than everything, this book seemed to be about coping mechanisms, how they help people survive and how they brutalize the people who use them and wield them against other people in their quest for survival.

orleansOrleans by Sherri L. Smith. I can read most dystopias/post-apocalyptic stories without a problem because they are more like fables than anything else, but some are too real and hard for me to read (like The Handmaid’s Tale, which I will never re-read). This story of a young black woman in a post-hurricane, post new epidemic New Orleans was one of the ones that seems too real and too possible. It’s a tough read but good in a heart-wrenching way, though I was not a fan of the ending.

 

What I’ve been reading: Ninefox Gambit, Too Like the Lightning & Infomocracy

ninefoxNinefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. A challenging read that’s worth it. Starts off with a steep learning curve as it all seems to be in English but you don’t know what any of the concepts mean put together like that. It’s like learning a new language and I could practically feel the neurons connecting in new ways. I actually re-read the first chapter, once in the sample and again after I bought the book and it helped a lot. Definitely something different, if you’re tired of the same old, same old.

lightning
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. “I got this,” I said, “after reading Ninefox Gambit, Too Like the Lightning can’t be too hard.” I was wrong. This was even more challenging. With Ninefox Gambit, I knew I didn’t know what the words he was using meant. With Lightning, it seemed like I knew what all the words meant, but did I really know? I felt like I was testing every word, every concept and asking, Is this what the author intended? Is this how she meant this? Partly because this book has lots of chewy ideas and partly because I was derailed fairly early on by Mycroft’s response to Danae’s gender performance in a world where supposedly those gender markers aren’t common (and the explanation for that doesn’t come for another 300 pages.) I’m glad I read it though I
wasn’infomocracyt always glad while I was reading it.

Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older. This was fun to read on the heels of Too Like the Lightning as it had some of the same ideas about near future and micro nations (for lack of a better word that applies to both) but in a much more accessible form. It reads a bit like a thriller, but with lots of
ideas about democracy and social media and voting.

 

Reading Diversely 2016 Check-in

I’ve read 43 books so far in 2016.

23 books by white women

4 by white men

9 by women of color

7 by men of color

That’s about 37% authors of color. And 63% white authors.

Better.

If I look at new books only, that’s 15 books by white women, 2 by white men, and still 9 by women of color and 7 by men of color. So I’m almost 50-50 in the the new-to-me books but when I’m re-reading (for comfort and/or writing books) most of those are by white authors.

Distpatches from Abroad: Mansplaining

“Do you know about mansplaining?” asked the man I was sharing a cab with.

I wondered if the cab was moving too fast to jump out of. But then I’d be stuck in the middle of 6 lanes of Bangkok traffic in 110 degree heat. That was probably worse than a stranger mansplaining mansplaining to me. Probably. “Yes,” I said cautiously.

“I was just about to lecture you on American politics,” (we had been talking politics; he was British, I’m American) “but I thought of the article I just read and I thought I shouldn’t.”

“Um.” It’s a toss up what I hate more: talking about American politics and Trump or the American obsession with guns to non-Americans.

“It would have been so fun. I wish I had never read the article.”

“Is that the attraction of it, do you think?” I asked, somewhat recklessly. Yes, he had resisted mansplaining once and didn’t seem too upset, but I didn’t know him, and who knows what kind of abusive garbage he might spew? But here was a chance to get it from the horse’s mouth, from a man who had brought it up and didn’t seem hostile.

“It’s great to have a captive audience. And women are so polite, they always look interested and it’s a great way to pass the time,” he said cheerfully.

I changed my assessment of his hostility. (My British coworker, when I told her this story, said she thought there might have been a cultural misunderstanding there, that he was probably saying it tongue in cheek. I maintain that even if it was, it was still a hostile thing to say.)

“Hmm.” I sort of desperately tried to make small talk (the code in sharing cabs with strangers seems to be either you talk or you don’t talk. The lapsed conversation feels much more awkward) until I realized was doing the gendered task of keeping the conversation going. I stopped. The conversation lapsed.

I guess he wasn’t very good at conversation now that the crutch of mansplaining had been taken away from him.

 

Terry Gross on the Longest Shortest Time

I thought this interview was kind of boring, in spite of my interest in women’s decisions to not have kids. There were two things that stood out to me, before I shut it off.

Terry Gross says she never felt called to have children. I think that’s a great phrase and I’m going to borrow it because that’s exactly how I feel. Not called. There are things I feel called to do in my life, but have children is not one of them. It’s an interestingly old fashioned way to say something that we think of as very modern.

The other is not so positive. She spoke about being a trailblazer, about being among the first generation of [white] women entering the workforce and having to prove to men that women could hack it. That they could play the man’s game.  I kept thinking about the Audre Lorde quote “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I can’t help wondering if that’s partly why we’re all still playing the men’s game, men included: expensive child care, very little family leave and what we do have is often unpaid, a lack of flexible work spaces and hours, children still seen as women’s work and not that important work either, etc. etc. The list goes on. That’s just off the top of my head.

I wonder if they [white women] had been a different kind of trailblazers and refused to play the game on men’s terms, where we would be now. If, instead of fitting the mold of the workplace that denies the reality of so many people’s lives outside of it, they had demanded the workplace fit them instead.

Hindsight is always 20/20 of course, but many women of color were advocating for those kind of changes at the time and were ignored by “mainstream” feminism.

It’s possible we’d be worse off. It’s possible we’d be better off. We can never know.

You don’t even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.

Anne Lamott
Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott on lighthouses