currently reading: My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese. He’s one of the doctor/writers that Atul Gawande listed as inspiring his own writing career, and this memoir is about treating AIDS patients in small-town Tennessee in the late 1980s. I like it so far. I would have thought some of his wide-eyed straight-person reportage on gay culture would grate (his nervous first visit to the only local gay bar), but it doesn’t.
Just finished: Sorry, Tree, poems by Eileen Myles. Most have short lines and are from one to three pages long. I like how their associations reach farther than my logical mind, but somehow I don’t feel lost. The endings feel like endings, but not overly tidy.
Here’s a bit from “Fifty-Three” that reminded me of my own desire to just look at trees and hang out with them:
I desire a big book about
this not better than them but
Who doesn’t love the text?
a book about trees
it’s like a park
except that all its windows
you look up at the world &
a book is
a web I suppose
saying you come
here to go
which a tree
my best friend
By happy coincidence, Myles will be reading at Reed! On Thursday, April 4, 6:30 PM in the chapel.
And also, though non-thematic: Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine and The Talented Clementine. I picked up Clementine because someone said it was reminiscent of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. Well. Clementine doesn’t name her doll Chevrolet, she names her cats after things in the bathroom. She isn’t told to “sit here for the present,” but she notes that being in gifted class has not resulted in getting any gifts yet. She gets in trouble for messing with the hair of the overachiever girl. And there’s a definite Henry-Huggins/Ramona dynamic between her and that girl’s older brother. It wasn’t reminiscent, it was downright distracting in its parallels.
I got past it, though. It is a little strange how the Clementine books are written in first person, but have more knowing smiles over the main character’s head than the Ramona books do in third person. But there are funny moments and Clementine has a great set of parents. I’m going to keep going with the series.
Reading now: the draft of a friend’s novel. I like the main character’s heartfelt voice, which reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky or Poly a bit. And I’m getting a glimpse of a cultural moment I missed but not by much– a decade, a degree or two of church immersion. Such a luxury to read an editor’s draft, too…hardly any typos or grammatical clunks!
About to read: A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet, by Judy Grahn. I read a little, not much, of Grahn’s work when I was in college. I dunno, I’m having a fling with the old-skool. Lesbiate and Smash the State!
The reason I know I’m about to read A Simple Revolution (and also What If All the Kids Are White?), or at least give them a try, is that I got them through interlibrary loan and therefore can’t renew them. Which brings us to
Sadly must return mostly unread: Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History, by Heather Love. More academic than my usual reads, but I was intrigued by its focus on the shadow side of queer identity. Pride is compulsory, but what about the feelings it demands we get rid of, like shame, loneliness, and regret? Not that those are my favorite things to feel, but they’re key to our collective history, (see The Well of Loneliness and so on) and certainly part of most (?) of our individual and family coming-out histories.
What really made me take this book home was that I opened it to a quote from another book, José Esteban Muñoz’ Disidentifications, that I found fascinating and spooky in equal measures. Disidentifications is probably also too much theory for me, but here. “Recounting a joke that he shares with a friend, Muñoz describes plans for a ‘gay shame day parade’:
This parade, unlike the sunny gay pride march, would be held in February…Loud colors would be discouraged; gay men and lesbians would instead be asked to wear drab browns and grays. Shame marchers would be asked to carry signs no bigger than a business card. Chanting would be prohibited. Parade participants would be asked to parade single file. Finally, the parade would not be held on a central city street but on some backstreet, preferably by the river.
So now that’s here, and I can go to the book return tomorrow with a light heart.
Just finished: Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind, a mix of personal stories, history, and analysis. It was like the perfect book for me. Gentrification and its amnesia, the unacknowledged trauma of the AIDS epidemic and its echoes in the present, intersectionality, the pitfalls of making art in a time of consumerism and erasure.
The core of the book is the intersection between the AIDS epidemic and gentrification in New York City. Brutally concrete connections, like men dying and their apartments going to market rate as their lovers are evicted because they couldn’t get on the lease. And broader parallels of displacement and homogenization, infecting minority, artistic, and queer cultures until people think it’s normal that art is about money in New York, and gay politics are about marriage, and the institutions of power are immutable.
I want to turn around and read it again, but it’s due at the library. I expect I’ll eventually buy a copy, but it’s published by a university press and expensive. (“Gentrification of Our Literature” chapter in action, I guess.)
This book comes closer than anything else I’ve read to articulating the amnesiac, normalizing aspects of whiteness and gentrification that are difficult to get at, though its discussions are brief. And beyond that, there are personal and tangential (except not) stories that link to my own memories and preoccupations:
I love that this tribute is here even though Schulman and Acker were not best buds, but “friendly acquaintances.” Acker had reviewed Schulman’s novel in The Village Voice, out of the blue. “There was nothing in it for her, believe me. I had no currency, no connections. I couldn’t help her in any way. She just liked my book and she said so–how ungentrified of her.” Schulman went to her house and looked at her bookshelves: “She would read every book by an author. She had more curiosity that way than most people. She had read every book by Norman Mailer, which I remember really striking me as he was entirely irrelevant to everyone else I knew.”
[a side note: when I was a student at Reed, Kathy Acker and Craig Lesley came to campus on the same evening, and did separate readings. I felt like the literary landscape was laid out for me right there. At the time I was like, Acker’s way is my way. I am very different now.]
I know teachers who face these issues, or mostly try not to think about them because they don’t seem solvable. As for her MFA years, Schulman estimates that about nine of her students had real talent…and she would have helped them anyhow, without the job. In most arts, the MFA system has been part of the machinery of gentrification.
The book bugged me in places. New York is the center of the universe, with a distant satellite called San Francisco. I don’t think Sarah Schulman would have the time of day for me, assimilated as I am and living in omg Oregon. She’s dismissive. Her take on LGBT parenting is ridonkulous, though I think she knows it. (“Very few children actually grow up to make the world a better place. Personally, I don’t feel that creating new victims, perpetrators, and bystanders is the great social ooh-and-aah that it is made out to be.”)
But. She remembers what it was like, and her stories feel like the opposite, the ungentrified opposite, of name-dropping. There’s just something about hearing someone speak the truth.
Reading Now: Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer, my go-to author for mental popcorn, and I mean that in the best way. Also just started Silas Marner via emails from DailyLit, so I’m continuing my love affair with George Eliot.
About to Read: Sarah Schulman’s Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences is waiting for me at the library.
Southeast Portland was very foggy when I went out to catch my bus this morning. I was glad when someone else came to stand at my bus stop, because if there were two of us the driver would see us and stop, right? (It worked.)
I like how fog lends solitude to a walk, even in the city. It’s like snow– everything is quieter. When I’m cross-country skiing, the most popular trails on Mt. Hood feel uncrowded (partly because sound is dampened and partly because I’m watching my feet a lot). I suppose for some people fog is just a pain, like snow is a pain for commuters, but for me it hasn’t lost its magic.
And fog is so literary. When I got to the Hawthorne Bridge, I couldn’t see the west bank from the eastern end of the bridge. People were taking photos (I’m no photographer, but that struck me as futile!). The fog made me want to smuggle something, made me think of Huck Finn and Poldark.
But the book I always think of when I step into a fog is Julia Sauer’s Fog Magic. Its status as a Newbery Honor book in 1944 is probably what kept it in print; I still have the Pocket Books paperback I got in the late 1970s. It’s a quiet story about a girl who loves the fog, and who finds that on foggy days she can slip back in time to a long-ago village. Her adventures start when she sees through the fog the outline of a house where there has been only a cellar hole for many years.
I just found a sweet web tribute (angelfire, that’s a time-trip itself!) to Julia Sauer, her partner, and the Nova Scotia village the book was based on:
Julia was a Librarian and an Author. Alice was a Fruit Farm Proprietor. It was talked in the village that they were wealthy ladies since they drove a big sports car to the envy of many here at that time….
Julia was a very hospitable lady. She was always so pleasant. She had a quiet, soft voice and a very friendly and welcoming smile. All were drawn to her charisma and charm. She was heavy in stature and both she and Alice dressed in country style attire.
It was a common sight to see them walk along the roads of Little River and stop to visit or chat with folks along their way. Little River was blessed by their kindnesses in many ways.
There are some books that form a quiet, almost unnoticed part of a reader’s DNA. Fog Magic is one of mine.
Sanguinity alerted me to this photo of the laminator and workspace for making signs at the Westboro Baptist Church. “They have their own IPRC!” she said. I’m obscurely pleased by the idea of an anti-IPRC out there. Competitive laminating. Makes me want to make some zines.
(I should say that although Mr. Fred Phelps himself creeps me out, the WBC does not bother me. I don’t fear the group, and from my perspective it has served as training wheels for many, many embryonic activists who get outraged and can agree that being that mean to gays is a horrible thing. I am actually strangely fond of the WBC and wish the family well, though I am not sure what that looks like.)
On twitter today I mentioned that I like George Winston’s music, so maybe today is my day for unpopular opinions.
Sang and I split the last packet of our FuBonn ramen– Ve Wong Vegetarian Flavor. I didn’t have high expectations, so when I cut open the nondescript oil packet and found it was fragrant sesame oil, I perked up fast. The noodles were yellow and not too thick; the broth had seaweed scraps, my favorite. It also had carrot chunks, which make me think of Lipton Cup-a-Soup, and crumbs of fake-hamburger-style TVP, which Sang found gross. It’s not the One True Ramen, but the sesame and seaweed appealed to me enough that I’d include it in future assortments.
Today felt like a Friday, but tomorrow really is Friday. And the roof people expect to be done with our house tomorrow! I expect to be broke but happy.