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.
This is far from the first time I’ve meant to participate in the Wednesday reading meme, but the first time I’ve gotten as far as starting a post. Yay me! In the twelve minutes remaining in my lunch hour:
What I’m Reading: Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
What I’ve Just Read: Three Among the Wolves, by Helen Thayer. I love reading about her adventures; she is quiet and tough. Here she spent a year observing wolves, along with her husband and their dog Charlie. Charlie was able to act as their ambassador and interpreter to some extent.
What I’m Reading Next: Something due soon at the library. Maybe Brian Doyle’s Mink River, maybe Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind.
First sentence (or two) from the first entry of each month in 2012:
January: Happy New Year! I have been away–- very far away, it felt like.
February: I got word today that the book Circulating Communities: The Tactics and Strategies of Community Publishing, which contains a chapter by Write Around Portland, which chapter in turn contains a short piece I wrote during my first WRAP workshop, is hot off the presses!
March: My internet friends tell me it’s World Book Day, which looks to be mostly in the UK and rather like Free Comic Book Day, but with fifteen years of history and recognition by UNESCO. Cool.
April: At work I’ve gone from 3/4 time to full time for the next couple of months, to help fill in for someone on medical leave. Last week was my first 40-hour work week in ages. Let the whining commence!
May: Authors whose books I admire greatly but have to read over and over again because I never quite get a complete understanding of them: Ellen Raskin, E.L. Konigsburg, Diana Wynne Jones, Henry James.
June: I peeked in at Lynda Barry’s Tumblr, which I’d sort of forgotten about for awhile, and read about the four-minute diary: “Why is it so hard to keep a diary? IT ISN’T! Keeping a diary is much easier if you limit your writing to four minutes each day: two minutes spent writing a list of what you remember from the day before and then two minutes making a list of things you saw.”
July: The practical reason I’m reviewing these books in the same post is that they are both due at the library.
August: I had a hankering for orange cheez powder, as in Kraft mac and cheese or cheap cheese crackers, so last night I tried cheez-flavored rice cakes, and ate some store-brand cheesy crackers, and also had some tuna mac (except it turns out we didn’t have any tuna in the cupboard, so I put in frozen peas instead).
September: In my Labor Day browsing I ended up reading about Joe Hill, the Wobbly labor activist executed by Utah in 1915. I was surprised to see that the text of his last will and testament were already familiar to me– as a song we sang at Girl Scout Camp.
October: I had jury duty at the county courthouse yesterday and today. Yesterday I was tickled to find myself in voir dire with Phillip Margolin, who writes bestselling legal thrillers!
November (draft post): I’ve had a soft spot for The New Criterion since the ’80s, in spite of its conservative politics. I used to take a bound volume or two to my library desk with me at Reed, and read articles when I needed a break from the Derrida and Post-Whatever I was trying to wrap my brain around.
December: Text sent to sanguinity at 4:50 p.m. yesterday: “Coming home a little early– yay! Because my back hurts– booo!”
My internet friends tell me it’s World Book Day, which looks to be mostly in the UK and rather like Free Comic Book Day, but with fifteen years of history and recognition by UNESCO. Cool.
Anyway, to the meme that’s going around!
Books I’m Reading:
Book I’m Writing: mumblemumblemumble not really talking about it yet. But it’s set more or less at Girl Scout camp!
Book I Love Most: Let’s see, which part of my DNA do I love the most? I sometimes try to list the eleven books that together form the most complete reflection of my reading brain: here’s the latest version of The Shelf, but it’s not quite right, is never quite right.
Last Book I Received As A Gift: Travelin’ Through, the coursebook Ken put together for the poetry group he leads during Lent.
Last Book I Gave As A Gift: Purple Hibiscus, by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, a Christmas-Eve book for Sanguinity. I bought it in San Juan, so I was relieved to have found a promising book in English. Neither of us has read it yet.
Nearest Book: As of just before I began this meme, since I’ve been collecting a nest of books around me while I type: Pick-Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court, ed. Marc Aronson and Charles Smith Jr. It’s a novel-in-stories about basketball, with each chapter written by a different YA author. Strong start with Walter Dean Myers, looking forward to Rita Williams-Garcia and Joseph Bruchac and…hey, weird, Bruce Brooks is in the contributor list but I can’t find his chapter. Anyway, I guess this should have gone in the “Books I’m Reading” list too.
Happy World Book Day!
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