MONDAY MIX – 1/15/18

A few years ago, I attended a conference presentation during which audience members were asked to construct a metaphor to represent our experiences as students.  No one had ever asked me to do this, so I was intrigued, but pretty stumped.  Then I remembered my old boom box, with its radio and dual cassette deck–I always kept a blank tape handy, ready to press “record” whenever something caught my ear.  I realized that I did the same in the classroom, gathering bits and pieces from various sources, often without an idea of how–or even if!–those pieces would fit together. That was the joy of making and sharing mix tapes; when crafted thoughtfully, they were greater than the sum of their parts.  

In that same spirit, I share a weekly “mix” of articles, recipes, book recommendations, and ideas in the hopes that something I share might fit into your own personal, ever-evolving collage. 

Have something you think I might be interested in?  I’d love to hear about it.  Share it here.

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-If you’re in the Houston area, please join me tonight for the 8th (!) annual Valentines for Veterans at Saint Arnold Brewing Company.  This event grew out of a little gathering between friends and has become a warm and wonderful community event that raises money for Expedition Balance, a local organization that does really important and thoughtful work supporting veterans as they transition back into civilian life.

If you’re not in the Houston area or can’t attend tonight, but know someone who is a veteran – please submit their mailing address via our website!  We mail handmade valentines and notes of gratitude out to any and every veteran whose address we receive.

 

-I am very, very proud to be a part of the soon-to-be-published anthology, Modern Loss.   The book contains first-person narratives from over forty contributors, sharing about the various textures and nuances that make up the strange terrain of grief.  This is EXACTLY the kind of book I went looking for after my dad died, but nothing like it existed – which is why I plan to buy a bunch of copies and keep them on hand for when life, invariably, throws someone I love a curveball.  Won’t you preorder a copy?

 

-I wrote a non-Monday-Mix blog post last week, about magic and women and how narratives are constructed.  Hoping to continue with additional posts about  books and teaching and the reading experience.  This one’s called “Rebel Girls Are Magic.”

 

-Last, but most important – if you have never read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” today is the day.  If you’ve read it but it’s been a while, today is the day.  Read it aloud with a family member or friend.  Marvel at how it sounds so timely, even though it was written nearly fifty-five years ago.  Resist the urge to think of this man as universally beloved, speaking what everyone can agree on was the truth; remember that he was a radical who was viewed unfavorably by the majority of Americans in the years leading up to his death.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

REBEL GIRLS ARE MAGIC

Like many kids, for Christmas, Shiv got a copy of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, a wonderful volume filled with the true stories of women from all periods of history, all parts of the world, and all spheres of influences: athletes, politicians, scientists, artists.  Each one-page story is told in “Once upon a time” style and accompanied by a vibrant, full-page illustration.  Shiv loves the book, and so do his moms.

A few things have struck me as we’ve worked our way through the stories: one, that I am learning so much.  Where have these stories been my whole life?  Why have I never even heard of the vast majority of these women before?  We know the answer to those questions; those in power craft the narratives, and powerful women threaten the patriarchy.  (Side note: same as it ever was.)  Still, the experience is visceral: the pride and awe I feel when reading about these badass women, the frustration that follows my surprise when I realize that I’m still carrying around an outdated narrative about women in general, that my dominant culture has successfully fed me the notion that women of intelligence, ambition, and valor–especially women of color–have, historically, been the very rare exception.

This notion of exceptionalism is revealed by the number of times that the narratives in Rebel Girls include lines like this one, about Jingu, a second-century Japanese empress: “Jingu was thought to have all kinds of magical powers.”  Or this one, about Lozen, an Apache warrior who lived in the late 19th century: “People believed she had supernatural powers.”

The message is clear–the only way these women could have been so impressive or done such incredible things is that they had the powers of magic at their disposal.  It’s the only possible explanation.

As we all know, this witchcraft narrative has been used to all kinds of nefarious ends by patriarchal systems threatened by powerful women; the body count is higher than we’ll likely ever know.  But even on a less physically violent level, to create a supernatural explanation for the achievements of women is to minimize the very real and difficult mental and physical work that women do.

The work of women has been and continues to be demeaned by our society’s gender pay gap, our shameful lack of parental leave (even when taken by men, this work is considered “female” or “feminine,”), and the disrespect for vocations and crafts typically taken up by women.  I can’t help but think about how many people I know, both men and women, all of whom would call themselves “feminists,” but who continue to perpetuate the narrative of magical women in all kinds of little ways: I don’t know how she does it all!  I swear she’s not human!

Except that every woman who is managing to juggle a million things and do it with some integrity IS human.  And the only way she’s managing to do it is through systems she’s created for herself, many of which she’s probably learned from other women, that allow her to navigate institutions that are in no way set up to support her, and may very well be actively thwarting her.  Is this a form of magic?  You bet.  But it’s the kind of magic generated by hard-won knowledge, sweat, rage, and sheer force of will.

In addition to erasing everything that goes into women’s work, the idea that women have some kind of supernatural or mystical “edge” creates an automatic excuse for men to be held to a different standard.  If women are able to do all that they do through the use of some magical powers, then we can’t possibly expect men to parent equally or build safe workspaces or take the thoughts and feelings of others into consideration.  So then when they do manage to do one of these things (because they are perfectly capable of so doing), they get–and some of them expect–a freaking gold star for the very work that, for women, goes unacknowledged every damn day.

Which brings me to my last point.  I completely understand why this book was advertised as a book that “every girl needs” – I get the importance of representation, I am a queer brown kid.  But I also know that it’s equally important (maybe more so?) that boys read this book, too.  Otherwise they’ll grow up with the same outdated ideas about female achievement and ability that I did.

So thank you, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, for teaching me about my own biases and pushing me to give the women in my life (myself included) more credit.

 

MONDAY MIX – 1/8/2018

A few years ago, I attended a conference presentation during which audience members were asked to construct a metaphor to represent our experiences as students.  No one had ever asked me to do this, so I was intrigued, but pretty stumped.  Then I remembered my old boom box, with its radio and dual cassette deck–I always kept a blank tape handy, ready to press “record” whenever something caught my ear.  I realized that I did the same in the classroom, gathering bits and pieces from various sources, often without an idea of how–or even if!–those pieces would fit together. That was the joy of making and sharing mix tapes; when crafted thoughtfully, they were greater than the sum of their parts.  

In that same spirit, I share a weekly “mix” of articles, recipes, book recommendations, and ideas in the hopes that something I share might fit into your own personal, ever-evolving collage. 

Have something you think I might be interested in?  I’d love to hear about it.  Share it here.

**

-Jill and I rarely make it to the movies, but when we were gifted some last-minute babysitting by our friend Kym, we decided to head to a theater to see Call Me By Your Name and I am so glad we did.  The movie was Jill’s choice – I’d heard of it, vaguely, but not read anything about it, so the whole film unfurled as an immersive experience for me, one which left me deeply moved (and also ready to jump on the next plane to Italy).  I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

 

-If you’re making yourself a reading list for 2018, or have an bookstore gift card to burn, I highly recommend Roxane Gay’s list of books she read in 2017.  With category titles like “A Memoir that Was Really Very Extra but the Writing Was Fine and the Book Certainly Held My Prurient Interest,” you’re sure to find something that you want to read, but also be amused in the process.

 

-And, on this day-after-the-Golden-Globes, as we move into awards season, I feel it my responsibility to endorse Go Fug Yourself, the only fashion/celebrity site I pay any attention to.  I do this because the writers behind it, The Fug Girls (Heather & Jessica), are whip-smart, witty, and really thoughtful.  They talk about pretty dresses, but also stuff that matters, and I just love them.  If you need a little entertainment in your day, I highly recommend checking them out!

 

MONDAY MIX (NEW YEAR’S EDITION) – 1/1/18

A few years ago, I attended a conference presentation during which audience members were asked to construct a metaphor to represent our experiences as students.  No one had ever asked me to do this, so I was intrigued, but pretty stumped.  Then I remembered my old boom box, with its radio and dual cassette deck–I always kept a blank tape handy, ready to press “record” whenever something caught my ear.  I realized that I did the same in the classroom, gathering bits and pieces from various sources, often without an idea of how–or even if!–those pieces would fit together. That was the joy of making and sharing mix tapes; when crafted thoughtfully, they were greater than the sum of their parts.  

In that same spirit, I share a weekly “mix” of articles, recipes, book recommendations, and ideas in the hopes that something I share might fit into your own personal, ever-evolving collage. 

Have something you think I might be interested in?  I’d love to hear about it.  Share it here.

**

Shiv was born in July 2012; that new year’s was his first night sleeping away from home, spending the night with his Nani (my mother).  New Year’s Day 2013, he had his first taste of solid food – sweet potato.  Since then, it’s become a tradition for him to spend the night with Nani while Jill and I enjoy an evening together.

Last night, as we driving back from our friends’ house (where we’d thoroughly enjoyed a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity), Jill asked me if I had any goals or aspirations for the new year.  We’re not necessarily resolutions people, but for the past few years, I have picked a word or phrase to focus on: 2016 was “discipline” and 2017, “courage.”  But I hadn’t yet thought of what 2018’s might be until Jill asked.

“I want to have more fun this year,” I told her, as we moved through the dark in the truck, the sky around us lit up as people set off backyard fireworks.  When I think about the memories from 2017 that are the most satisfying, what comes to mind are nighttime dance parties with Shiv, playdates with friends and their kids, time spent in art museums, reading, or enjoying delicious meals.  Those are the times when I am the most present and the least in my head.  Those are, as cheesy as it sounds, the times when I feel most alive, like I am living according to what I value: time with the people I love, good conversation about things that matter, learning new things.

So, I’ll be making a new notecard for my bathroom mirror today: MORE FUN.  What about you?

 

-I’m really excited to be offering a new writing course for 2018!  Come What May: Navigating Transitions with Grace is designed to give participants time and space to examine the changes, both big and small, transpiring in their lives.  Course materials will be delivered electronically each Saturday, from January 6 to February 10.  The cost is $25.  I’d love to have you join me if you’re interested.  You can also gift the course to a friend or family member – just leave me a note with their email address when checking out.

Learn more about the course and sign up here!

 

-Sometimes it’s important to take some time to look at beautiful things.  This piece from Edible Brooklyn features the stunning marzipan creations made at Fortunato Brothers, including the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, but in marzipan form.  All made by hand and ridiculously beautiful.

 

-I appreciated the message of this piece from LitHub: How Fetishizing ‘Craft’ Can Get In the Way of a Good Poem.   I’ve tried in the last year to be especially mindful of how we English teachers can unwittingly cancel out students’ enjoyment of literature by analyzing it to death, and this was an important reminder to keep an eye on that balance.

 

-In the last week or so, we’ve been the lucky recipients of the generosity of so many friends and family members, who’ve volunteered to help with Shiv, deliver food, run errands, help move furniture, and the like.  The family of two former students arranged to pick Shiv and his best friend up for a joint playdate; when I arrived to pick up the kids, they sent me home with a trunk full of food, including this delicious vegetable lasagna.  I’m not sure I can really articulate how humbling and grace-filled an experience it is to have a young woman whom you’ve known since the eighth grade cook you dinner, but I can say with confidence that I’ll be adding this recipe to our family rotation.

COME WHAT MAY

It’s become kind of a joke with myself, that I wind up teaching about Buddhism right when I myself need to hear about it the most.  For the last four years, I’ve offered a Comparative Religions course, so it’s been my job to introduce high school students to the story of the Buddha and his Four Noble Truths, but it honestly ends it feeling more like a perfectly timed gift, every time.

As you probably already know, one of the core tenants of the Buddhist worldview is impermanence–essentially, that change is the only constant in the universe.  My students and I discuss the extent to which such an understanding, though we can all affirm its truth from life experience, feels negative or like bad news.  In a culture where we write “Never change!” in each other’s yearbooks, the notion that everything in our lives–ourselves included–is subject to change can feel a little scary.

Which is why, each year when the Buddhism unit appears on my lesson plan calendar, I think, “Oh man, I could really use this right now.”  Because the truth is that I could really use it right about anytime.

 

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I’m offering a new writing course for 2018 – Come What May: Navigating Transitions with Grace.  Like my Buddhism unit, it’s a set of materials that I’m excited to share because I’m called to them in my own life.

My sense is that most of us are attentive to the major changes in our lives, the ones with clear outward manifestations–job changes, relationship status changes, births, deaths.  But what of the more subtle changes?  The shifts in self, in perspective, in being?  The ways of thinking that no longer fit, the friendships that feel “off,” the sides of ourselves that we’re seeing for the first time–these are no less worthy of our attention.

I believe that we can learn a great deal by taking the time to examine the changes, both dramatic and subtle, unfolding in our lives and selves.  And I believe that the more we practice this kind of looking, the more intuitive it will become.

Come What May is a weekly course that will run from January 6 – February 10, 2018.  Each week, for six weeks, you’ll receive journal prompts, short readings, and supplementary materials designed to help you take stock of your present state.  This course will also include the opportunity to discuss & share with other participants if you wish.  Cost is $25.

What better way to start the new year than with some self reflection?  I hope you’ll join me!  You can sign up for the course here.