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Archive for April, 2017

On margin hearts

This morning, I finished William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite. I daresay I drew more hearts in the margins of its final chapters than in total throughout all the other books I’ve read this last year.

Most of what I read doesn’t really warrant being smattered with ♥♥♥. It’s mostly grim, and blunt, and important for me to keep reading no matter how much it hurts my figurative heart when I do.

Some of what I’ve read goes beyond describing what’s wrong and into envisioning what “right” might look like. It’s those visions of something better for all that inspire me to draw hearts in the margin of my non-fiction reads. My highlighter hearts are the opposite of all my furious, borderline hopeless margin notes, which speak to the hard work I’m doing with my head. Margin hearts, on the other hand, reflect the hard work that I’m doing with my heart: finding the chutes of green among the rubble of American inequity and militarism, searching for and attuning myself to voices of hope with dust still heavy in the air.

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Books are oriented three different ways on my in-progress shelf. The leftmost books, with words falling down like rain, are books I’ve already finished reading. Books with words climbing upward are ones I’ve begun, but have set aside for the moment. The remainder, I’ve yet to start reading. Read more…

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She lived

I’ve heard Kitty Genovese’s name dozens of times, most frequently in college. Tonight, my husband brought her up as we discussed the book I just started reading.

“She was raped and murdered while nobody called–” Anthony began, pausing when he saw the stricken look on my face.

“Oh, my God,” I replied. “We talked about her all the time in college classes, but not really about her–always about how she died and what we could learn from how she died. Fuck, dozens of times I’ve heard about her death, but never about her.” I got my phone and began looking into who she was, so that when I hear her name in the future I can know her by some of her life instead of its last 30 minutes.

She didn’t just die. SHE LIVED.

After I set down my phone, I apologized to my husband for bailing on our earlier conversation. He shook his head to dismiss my apology, saying, “You wanted her to be more than a factoid.”

I wish I could have five minutes with Kitty herself, to hear about her life as she lived it instead of as others witnessed it.

These are some of the things I wish I could ask her:

  • What’s your favorite kind of ice cream? What’s your favorite memory of eating ice cream?
  • What was the most annoying thing any of your siblings ever did?
  • If you only were allowed to read one book for the rest of forever, which book? Why?
  • How did you like bartending, compared to clerical work?
  • What’s the kindest thing anyone ever did for you? That you did for someone else?
  • What’s the worst trouble you ever got in? What didn’t you get in trouble for because no one caught you?
  • Tell me about your first kiss!
  • If you got to choose one thing people will remember about you, what would you choose?

This 4/5/17 post transferred from L2SP 8/21/17

Not a fixed state

This morning, I read an article on business “culture.” Its author wrote about this in a way that demands quotation marks be placed around the word. Is “culture” really some fixed thing, perceived and experienced the same way by everyone?

As I read, I imagined the author conversing with Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, authors of the 1969 book Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The book is less about teaching than assumptions, and specifically learning to explore and challenges one’s own assumptions, including those shaped by a specific language. One of my favorite passages is about “the mind”:

Even the words “the mind” are subtly metaphoric. Think of those words for a moment. Why the mind? Why a noun? Why a “thing”? As John Dewey and Arthur Bentley observed, we would come much closer to actuality if we spoke of “minding” (as a process) than of “the mind” (as a thing).

With that passage in mind (ahem), I chuckled at the idea of “a culture.” Why does English treat it as a thing, not a process? It’s dynamic and evolving, shaped by many factors and influences, not a point in time! It seems more apt, then, to think of “culturing” than of “culture.” Every day, through countless acts and interchanges, the people who participate in a company or community are shaping it. They might be said to be “culturing,” rather than “impacting ‘the’ culture.”

I have no answers to these questions, but I do love reflecting upon them. Before last month, I’d never really considered how language shaped my world instead of simply helping me describe it. Now, I see dozens of examples of this shaping every day. It’s fun exploring these questions I didn’t even realize were questions a few weeks ago.

If this isn’t enough for you to mull over, here’s a parting consideration I’d do well to hold in mind keep minding: “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” This is important because judgment can make us “behave in response to our judgments rather than that which is being judged” and because: “People and things are processes. Judgments convert them into fixed states.”

I’m not a fixed state. Are you?

This 4/4/17 post transferred from L2SP 6/3/17

Knowledge is a quest

When I began striving to speak Politics late last year, I had the notion that “politics” was a separate subject distinct from all others. The first few months, then, it was very easy to practice; everything I read was new to me and fairly easily summarized, and so I wrote almost daily.

After a few months, I started feeling like politics wasn’t really separate or distinct from anything else. Rather, it was a part of everything, and everything was a part of it. The “politics” books on my bookshelf weren’t on separate, discrete topics, but on different aspects of an interconnected everything I could only barely fathom and definitely could not articulate. The books’ covers only created an illusion of disconnectedness between the books themselves, as well as everything they attempted to represent.

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The beginning

I found it much harder to write about politics once I discerned politics wasn’t an isolated body of knowledge. Before, I’d thought politics was one thread running through a quilt. After I saw that politics was made of many subjects, moments, feelings, and experiences, I despaired of distinguishing what was related and what wasn’t, because each thread within the quilt contained elements of different subjects.

Where would I start, and where would I leave off? I had no idea, but that didn’t seem like a good reason to stop. If I persevered, I might get better at seeing which threads ran closest together, and someday expressing those connections with any clarity.

Several times recently, I’ve written about former NYU professor Neil Postman. Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death was required reading for three of my husband’s American Studies courses at Yale. As I began my quest for understanding, Anthony told me I’d really appreciate the book. Read more…

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