The Label of White #5

Political Discussion, Uncategorized

The label White, in and of itself, is not right[1]. Not even when attempting to call it out.

What I mean is this:

  • Absorbed groups have the constant threat of being rejected and so, conform or over-conform to the status quo. It is an efficient way to conserve power and simultaneously deceive people into thinking they hold power, while the commanding handful increase their grip on it.

[1] the definition of the term here should be “morally good or justified.” The definition of “true or correct” also works…

Advertisements

The Label of White #4

Political Discussion, Uncategorized

The label White, in and of itself, is not right[1]. Not even when attempting to call it out.

What I mean is this:

  • White is a term of convenience. It allows for the whitewashing of accepted outside groups to be absorbed into the power-holding force we call White. It allows for the maintenance of organizational structure and status. It insures that the power-holding group will not be out-numbered or taken over, but also allows for the disenfranchisement of these absorbed peoples upon whim, through the claims of “not being white enough,” or “not truly white.[2]

[1] the definition of the term here should be “morally good or justified.” The definition of “true or correct” also works…

[2] Often I’ve heard a version of these accusations come from the mouth of the self-obsessed U.S. citizen, claiming that one person or another is “not American enough,” or “not truly American,” and should do something like show proof of their birth certificate.  If these people are really seeking truth and want to be right, and for that matter, do justice to their point, they should request to see their tribal identification card. Yet, I doubt that’s what they mean.

RRR, a Review

Reading, Uncategorized

I’ve only read the Fall 2016, Issue thirty-eight, of Red Rock Review, and I only discovered it while perusing the periodical racks of a Phoenix area Barnes & Noble while visiting family for Thanksgiving, but from what I can tell, RRR is a perfectly fine literary journal.  Sponsored by the College of Southern Nevada, it carries zero commercial responsibility, which is a good thing, mostly… it means more honesty and attention devoted to the work, except I also think it allows for a little bit of a lazy standard.

RRR is perfectly not surprising, but it is also not upsetting; it is what it is.  This doesn’t sound like a compliment, and I guess it isn’t… but at the same time, it’s not anywhere near the harshest criticism. On any given day, I’d love to be called perfectly fine.

My favorite work from the issue is the opening essay, “Eight Lousy Points,” by Scott Dickensheets[1]. It’s the only writing about football I’ve ever been able to read from start to finish, and it will probably be the only essay about football I will ever discuss at any sort of length. The essay has a strong opening; “The air in part of Benito Juarez International Airport smells like Montezuma’s Revenge: viscous, germy—fecal.” What follows is equal parts travel essay, recollections of childhood memories, observations from life, and parallels drawn to Bob Dylan lyrics. The biggest flaw in the work, however, is its vantage point, which is tainted with a little bit of white privilege, and a little/lot bit of overreaching, inaccurate hyperbole:

The throb of my tailbone—thanks to five hours wedged into an Aero Mexico seat clearly not designed for el gringo largo—underscores the fragility I feel: I’m in a country I don’t know, subject to laws I don’t comprehend, any misunderstandings to be sorted out in a language I don’t speak… I fear that the smallest incident might spiral into a stretch in Mexican jail. (2)

But, Dickensheets’ overreaching statements are permissible (mostly), because he masterfully weaves together an unpredictable essay from seemingly unrelated topics to form a poetic conclusion.

Jocelyn Kelly’s “Kingdoms for a Day,” is likewise disjointed, and likewise masterfully woven together. It’s what I call a landscape story; one where the narrator makes a general observation about the landscape (in this case, a public beach), and then dips briefly into some of the separate (but connected) elements that compose it; children building a sandcastle out of old bundt cake pans, a mother still sad from losing her child, a sixty-year-old woman reading a romance novel, and a couple caught in the freshness of new love. While the movements between the short fragments of the whole are somewhat predictable, there is poetry there somehow, there is something transcending that insists that “every moment [is] meaningful,” and that even small, seemingly unnoticeable connections can be just enough to “catch you even when you’re drowning,” (33).

On the contrary, a lot of the poetry in RRR is less successful. Bibhu Padhi’s[2] works remains too abstract/non-specific for my taste, with lines like:

…What carried the tremble in your songs

Up to those rare, blissful

 

Layers of love and sunlit air.

Tonight your voice

 

Floats back, through

A forgetting time of disownment… (“Again Your Voice Returns,” 21)

 And the works in RRR that contain more concrete detail, like Robert Karaski’s “The Definition of Joy,” verge on the purely prosaic:

The season wheels into summer.

Amy bakes lasagna in Aberdeen,

I cool off with lemonade… (29).

Criticism aside, Red Rock Review was a pleasant read (and a relatively inexpensive one, at only $6.50 for the volume). It also seems like a perfectly decent journal for aspiring writers like myself to submit to with little intimidation or fear, because if/when rejection or acceptance happens, it will be what it will be.

Footnotes:

[1] If Dickensheets is, in fact, his real last name, and not a penname, I’d be down to marry him, cuz, well, I mean…

[2] Bibhu Padhi is a more successful poet that I will probably ever be. He has published ten books of poetry and has been featured in countless big-name publications… so take my criticism with just a few grains of salt.

Insomnia and the Aunt: A Review

Reading, Uncategorized

Fuckin brilliant. Works like this make me feel like I need to read mountains and mountains of works like this. Sorry for gushing, but seriously… And I know expletives are supposed to make one look dumber (they are a known intellect killer; smart people know how to use their words well—they know how to explain complex ideas well), but seriously…

Tan Lin’s “ambient” novel, Insomnia and the Aunt, is described as a work that “explores the relationship between technology, television, and human experience,” but it is so much more than this, or anyone’s, simple explanation of it. Physically speaking, Insomnia and the Aunt is a hybrid accumulation of photographs, footnotes, and snippets of (fictionalized?) reality; but like all great things, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

Disclaimer: I love short writing; I love works that are constructed from seemingly disconnected pieces. To be sure, this work is not great in the traditional sense; it is not structured with a clear narrative in mind, nor does it have a clear character. If you are a traditional story-arch reader, this book is most definitely not for you. But if you are a reader constantly searching for the poetic in the mundane, the cerebral expression that is this book is refreshing.

Many people are confused and think that Insomnia and the Aunt is a story about a Chinese American family, or, more specifically, about the narrator’s memories of his Chinese American aunt, but in reality it’s more than that. What most people miss is the fact that the fictional aunt in the story is not only fictional in relation to Tan Lin (author), but more than likely, also fictional in relation to the narrator. The careful reader discovers this pretty early on:

The names for my family are linked, like a mirror or perhaps a footnote, to the physical world and to social inconsistencies and historical accidents. In other worlds, my mother and father rarely saw my aunt in my presence, except maybe once on our first and only visit to a Chinese restaurant in Spokane. (14)

From this page forward, it seems that the best interpretation of the aunt is allegory. Without reading the aunt literally, the ‘factual’ information offered by the narrator is simply an observation that his family rarely watched TV together (in fact, his only recollection of this ever happening is when it happens accidently/forcefully while eating in a Chinese restaurant in Spokane). What solidifies the allegorical read of the aunt is the sentence that comes after the quote above; “Some relatives are meant to be imagined years before or after they died,” (14). There is no clear way to interpret this statement except to accept that the narrator is making the intangible, tangible. His aunt/the TV—or more accurately, his aunt/the act of watching the TV while being stuck somewhere between Chinese and American—is the real subject of this book.

And to be sure, Lin captures some really poignant things about the interaction between bridging one’s immigrant culture with the passive/not-so-passive act of philosophizing in front of the TV:

For an immigrant like my aunt, America is not the images on TV, it basically is the TV, which is why she decorates it with paper doilies, vanilla incense sticks and stuffed Garfields. This is also why my aunt thinks all TV, even live TV, is canned, and why she thinks America is basically not a place or even an image, but furniture. (19-20)

Without explaining too much of the book to you, Lin’s philosophizing is beautiful and compelling. Reading this book is similar to the way the narrator describes the way he watches TV, “involuntary and achronological, a kind of anthropological dumb show,” where one simultaneously half-watches segments of “old westerns… late night shows and Jackie Gleason re-runs,” (16).  And in this way, Lin allows himself to a-chronologically play with philosophical ideas of interpretation, representation, and order, instead of tinkering with crafting a story.

It’s the mental landscape Lin creates that is most interesting and surprising about this book. It’s what kept me reading, and it’s what makes me want to start a furious search for more books that operate the way this one does.

I doesn’t happen often, finding a book that forever changes how you read; but Insomnia and the Aunt is a permanent marker in the road of my reading (and writing) journey, one that has cracked open for me possibilities and expectations for books that I didn’t realize could exist; this is what I find most exciting.

-*-

Other great moments from Insomnia and the Aunt:

‘When will the gazelle die?’ I ask my aunt.

‘Already dead.’

My aunt has trouble understanding when something is dying on TV and when something is dead in real life and that already dead is not the same thing as the fiction of watching it on TV. ‘They won’t show that on TV.’

‘Gazelle. Already dead,’ my aunt says. She adds, ‘not already dying.’ (16)

 

“If live TV is disturbingly real, canned TV for my aunt is a function of reincarnation, or maybe morphology, at once vague, casual and novelistic. (20)

 

…a child from Kansas City who can imitate the sounds of strange animals like bush hogs or California condors defeats conversation before it starts—and this of course, is what creates that beautiful thing known as talking, (36).

The Label of White #3

Political Discussion, Uncategorized

The label White, in and of itself, is not right[1]. Not even when attempting to call it out.

What I mean is this:

  • Discussing White Privilege, like discussing racism, sexism, classism, and hetero-normativism[2] is good and needed, but these discussions only address symptoms of larger language and social patterns that need to be studied and actively disrupted.

[1] the definition of the term here should be “morally good or justified.” The definition of “true or correct” also works…

[2] I am taking artistic liberty in re-phrasing the term hetero-normativity into “hetero-normativism” for effect. Because…you know, noshitsgiven.

The Label of White #2

Political Discussion, Uncategorized

The label White, in and of itself, is not right[1]. Not even when attempting to call it out.

What I mean is this:

  • Most people seem to assume that the natural ending point for reversing White Privilege would be a magnetic shift, a reversing of the poles, and surely “this is not useful either.” This is where the fear of ‘reverse’ racism arises. It is, however, just a fear, not a viable, statistical, logical, or even semantic actuality. The fear that poles can shift, that those in power can lose it and those not in power can rise up and become even more oppressive, is used to create stasis. This stasis is even seen and felt in the well-meaning advocates of social justice.

[1] the definition of the term here should be “morally good or justified.” The definition of “true or correct” also works…

 

The label of White #1

Uncategorized

The label White, in and of itself, is not right[1]. Not even when attempting to call it out.

What I mean is this:

  1. Misplacing credit to one’s white skin solidifies the false notion that being white makes one inherently worthy of privilege. White as a race, as a marker of privilege, is a sleight of hand[2]. The distraction of the term allows for endless well-meaning discussions, ones that attempt to identify problems, symptoms, and distinctions, but no change.

[1] the definition of the term here should be “morally good or justified.” The definition of “true or correct” also works…

[2] It’s the age-old trick used to make the coins in the hands of the Other disappear and reappear in the pocket of the magician.

The Problem with the Term ‘White Privilege.’

Political Discussion, Uncategorized

Make no mistake, I am not like some people who do everything they can to claim their European heritage, to insist that they are ‘Spanish’ and not Mex-icky-can.[1]

I make no effort to insist that I am white. And yet I have privilege (even if, for all intents and purposes, borrowed).

We are supposed to talk about our privilege in negative terms, and certainly any and everything that gives us an unfair, unearned advantage over others is a rotten thing, but I need to advocate for my privilege just for a second, only to state that I reject being white and I still have it. This is partially because I live in a city and a region[2] where most people look, act, and smell[3] like me… And that’s my point.

[1] But, also make no mistake, I do not speak Spanish even though I have lived along the US-Mexican border my entire life. People are insulted when they address me in Spanish and I respond in English or give them an uncomfortably confused look. The embrace of my culture that I claim is problematic to be sure, but I do not try to erase the impossible journey my great-grandmother made in order to escape an abusive and cold husband. I do not try to erase the fact that she walked, with three small children, hundreds of miles of desert, fleeing dozens of authorities, and dredged across the muddy scar that people use to separate everything here from there. I do not try to deny that I am here because of her.

[2] Current demographics for El Paso, Texas are ~80% Hispanic/Latino. “Hispanic,” in many cases is coded as “White” but always with a caveat distinction (with it’s own percentages) labeled “White, Non-Hispanic.” A no-mans-land of pseudo-belonging…

[3] Surely cultures and regions have distinct smells…

The Perpetual Thought of the Other

Political Discussion, Uncategorized

Those deemed Other constantly, incessantly, self-consciously think:

Do I let people treat me this way or do people treat me this way because of some sort of bias? Do I feel different because of myself or because of something someone else has done? Do I act different because it is my character or because it is what is expected of me?

These rhetoricals[1] hang in the mind-closet of the self-aware and disenfranchised other. These age-old garments passed down from generation to generation defy moths and dry-rot. They are shadows that distract those of us that are self-aware and self-conscious from living and interacting wholly with the world around. These garments, these shadows, these performances are exactly the opposite of a woman or man with way too much clothes in their closet but still nothing suitable to wear. They are a mind-fuck and an energy-suck; a timeless muck like the dog-shit one accidentally steps on while being a tourist in some brilliant city like Seattle.

These rhetoricals are what causes one to drown their sorrows on any given Thursday afternoon in three bowls of cereal, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and/or (depending on the day or the week) uncounted ounces of box wine.

[1] I added an “s” which defies prescriptive grammar. On this page, I do it twice. I am, after all, only living up to what is expected of Others like me.

Noon Time

Reading

Where has Noon been my whole life? Noon, the famous time of day for lunch—for naps—for breaks; is apparently also a shrink-wrapped literary journal. At $12, it was a compulsive buy, one pointing in the direction of “wasted” income. You know what I mean… some people buy cigarettes or joints, I blindly buy coffee and random books; the outcome is the same (no money), but “waste” is the American way, and it’s how I get by.

Enough about that tangent… at $12, I didn’t know what to expect; all I knew about Noon was its appealing tan and blue abstract cover. And because we all judge books by their covers (admit it, you do too), I bought it. And in this case, I’m glad I did. This literary annual will be one that l willingly “waste” my money on from year to year until its cycle ends.

It’s not that the 2016 volume of Noon contained literary works that blew my mind or shook my world; no, it’s much more simple than that. Not everything has to bring you to your knees or make you ponder philosophical questions. Not every story worth reading has to evoke large emotion or ponder heavy questions. In fact, sometimes the opposite is just as poignant. Literature can be birthed from some place small… in fact, it can remain something small…a turn of phrase…an unexplained symbol… a moment in time. Literature can be something as simple as a noon-time break; pedestrian really—nothing special, except that we live for those short moments where we get to sit down and breathe, nap, or gossip.

Like my lunch break during the work week, the works in Noon are short (sometimes frustratingly so). The stories do not have complicated plots or characters; in fact, let me sample one for you by Greg Mulcahy in its entirety:

Jaguar

What concession, Emily said, would Jaguar, spirit of the forest, make?

Averaging between a page and three, the majority of the stories in Noon are what most people would call awkwardly short; but their beauty and value is the fact that they offer something outside of the space or time needed to read them. These little bites of language offer nourishment and energy that can be digested and expended throughout the day.

We forget sometimes the purpose of eating. We eat food because our body needs energy. We get wrapped up in the search or desire for ambrosia when, really, chicken strips or a sandwich will do the job just fine. In the same way, we sometimes forget the purpose of written language.

It’s not that I’m saying the works in Noon are equivalent to cheap fast food. No, the stories here are much more spot on than a greasy burger or battered slice of hormone infused chicken breast. But at the same time, they aren’t works that would appear in Agni. Like a chicken strip, or rather, like the takeout “Spicy chicken fried with Szechuan peppercorns, and beef fried rice,” (10) in Michael Cuglietta’s story “The Feast of Jupiter,” the stories in Noon are accessible and satisfying; they are the perfect meal to digest while mourning the loss of your dog. The stories in Noon are perfect to digest while “Loud announcements [come] over the speakers providing updates about the many delays,” (95).

Highlights from the Noon Menu

Kayla Blachley’s “Glamour”

Waiting for a plane to be de-iced

Pair with a bottle of Smart Water

1 minute 21 seconds 160 calories
Susan Laier’s “Wedding Ring at Rest”

a woman stressing because she can’t find her wedding ring…stressing more because she doesn’t want it

perfect with a cup of coffee

1 minute 16 seconds 240 calories
Susan Laier’s “The Lost Voice”

a cellphone that drowned in a toilet

pair with a bag of Cheetos

1 minute 0 seconds 110 calories

Fact is, everyone should read Noon; not in the same way one read books, but the way one reads life, one short moment at a time… with moments of greater time in between to absorb, digest, and reenergize.