Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cats in Krasinski Square: a review

The Cats in Krasinski Square The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This recounting of the Warsaw uprising tells the story of a little girl from a family outside the ghetto trying to help support the jews inside who are resisting the nazis.

It's a story of small heros that deals with issues of privilege, passing, and resistance in a manner that is age appropriate. A great book for starting a conversation about social responsibility and how people who have safety can help those who are in dangerous situations. I'd recommend it to any kid, but especially to anyone looking for people's history.

View all my reviews.

Beyond, beneath, and in search of our means

My mother and step father got divorced years ago. They were both working the same job, living in a brand new condo in a beach town, and making about 80,000 a year together. They split up and I ran off to college, so you could say we each struck out on our own. Our interpretations and performances of class couldn’t be more different.

My mother moved to Michigan because she couldn't take the hour and 1/2 commute while being a single parent. She's remained unemployed since she’s been there, collecting 1,200 a month in retirement (before taxes). Her income is now 15,000 a year, but when I went to visit her, everything in her house seemed new. She was installing oak encasements on the windows and doors, she has custom designed sinks put into the bathrooms, she drives a new envoy (read SUV that gets 15 iles to the gallon), she bought another TV and DVD player (even though she hadn't figured out how to use the one I bought her years ago), and the list goes on. She spoke of how she was poor a lot. She lamented about all the things the house "needed"-- like plusher carpeting, tile to replace the linoleum, another TV for the kitchen, etc. She obviously believed it and yet, in my mind there was excess in every inch of her new 21,000 square feet of house.

My step father stayed with the company and now makes 4,000 a month. He lives in a house in NC that is half the size of hers. Moreover, it has gaps between the wall and the ceiling, that has no door knob on the front door, that has broken windows. He eats out every night at olive garden, his house has nothing of value in it, and he owns a junky, old (20+ years) car and a similarly beat-up truck.

It’s inconceivable to me that either of them can live the way they do making the amount of money they do. When they were together, they mediated one another’s excesses, and so my home life was more or less congruent with their income—we ate out often, but they had the same cars forever; we had TV’s in the living room and bedroom but only basic cable; my mother bought expensive tools but did all her own home and car repairs.

I’m sure my upbringing has been formative for my worldview (whether I like it or not), but we must also remember that my attitudes and practices are heavily influenced by the ideologies I embrace as a Buddhist and an anti-capitalist. I don’t buy new things. I rarely buy old things. I sometimes collect free things. And I always make sure I get rid of one thing for everything I acquire.

I’ve been unemployed for 6 months now. I’ve made $760 total in that time and supported myself entirely. I buy fresh produce and go to coffee shops on my credit card. The first thing that sticks out to me is that I think of these as luxuries, and sometimes I even feel guilt about them. However, I rationalized that when you find yourself in a period of extended deprivation you have to afford yourself “luxuries” because they are important to your sense of well being (honestly, I am rather successful at staving off the feeling of being deprived by allowing myself my luxeries). The second thing to note is that I have 1,000 worth of credit card debt to show for it. That means my cost of living for the entire time I’ve been out of school is on average 550 a month in a town where I pay 400 in rent w/o utilities. I’m not sure which sensibility I take after more since I’m living beneath the poverty line but above my means.

Now I think about how my 6 year old brother is growing up with two reference points that are each imbued with their own sense of class unreality. I wonder how he will make sense of money, of finances, of budgeting. I wonder more how he will connect those things with social standing, which excesses he will indulge, what he will think he needs, and how will that compare to what he can afford to need…

Monday, July 28, 2008

Updated Children's Book list

I have once again been spending time bumming around the children's shelves of politically correct new england bookshops (this time at Raven used books; all under $10). Aside from fawning on some dyke families (I will never grow tired of seeing women with inch-long hair pushing double strollers on Northampton street corners), I also accomplished adding a few titles to the my list of children's books that promote radical values.

In case you haven't noticed the pattern, I'm updating it at the beginning of each month (the link is in this article title, so you don't have to dig through the archives for June) and the newest set will appear in burnt red. Share some ideology and indoctrination with a child you love today. Or maybe just start a conversation about something you care about.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Jokes and the Unconscious: A book review

Jokes and the Unconscious: A Graphic Novel Jokes and the Unconscious: A Graphic Novel by Daphne Gottlieb

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book isn't your typical graphic novel. It takes the mundane: a college aged girl loosing her father, and twists it into the surreal.

The story itself reads largely like a written novel with the art adding layers more than detail.

Paced by uneasy jokes, this graphic novel pushes its tale forward with all the pithy desperation of fight club complimented by haunting artwork.

If you're looking for Allison Bechdel, you won't find it here, but if you're up for a somewhat nihilistic walk through the grieving process, then the experience is well worth the read.
View all my reviews.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Food and class

Foods that indicate low status
Anything from jars or cans
Junk food
Fried foods
Frozen juices
Asian food (especially Curry & Stir-fry)
Skim milk
Cooking with oil instead of butter

Foods that indicate high status

Meat (boneless, skinless, and white)
Non-water beverages (coffee, juices, milk, etc)
Cheeses that aren’t cheddar
Fresh produce
Foreign (read European and Mediterranean) foods
Bakery/hard-crusted bread

Varied condiments (ie. More than one type of mustard, salsa, etc.)
It was important to my mother that we didn't eat "like poor people." When I would petition for vegetables (and eventually when I came out as a vegetarian), my mother would scoff and say things like "we can afford meat so we shall have it. Why settle for things beneath you?" It was similarly important that we were not the kind of people who ate processed meat, who ate meat from a can (to this day I’ve never had tuna salad), who ate meat that had been pressed into patties; we were the kind of people who ate white meat, who ate pulled meat, who bought boneless everything. My mother bought an extra freezer to house the bulks of bargain priced flesh. More than any other aspect, food was the way my mother choose to assert her class ascendancy.
When I would complain about chicken again, she would tell me of days when she was of a lower military rank (with a correspondingly lower pay scale) and she would eat an English muffin for dinner three nights a week. I once told her, “You could buy so much ramen for the price of a pack of English muffins” Disappointed that I had missed the point, she embarked to instill in me that if you have to, then you should eat less, not compromise the quality.

What the thing poor people didn't understand was how to shop wisely (buy in bulk) and how to buy foods that were nourishing. Her tone would be full of judgment as she would list the junk food in my aunt’s cupboard (they were on food stamps). Surely I could see that it was a grievous miscalculation on the part of the government to let poor people decide what to buy with their aid.

Things seem to come full circle as I stall grocery shopping in wait for Wednesday, when I can apply for food stamps…

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Quirky Fairytale Part 1

There was once a young Genderqueer who had avoided the pitfalls of romance rigorously and successfully all of hir life. A believer in love but a cynic to romantic relationships (surely the sweet sounds of adoration have a thousand times more range than this single octave), ze could oft be heard sneering at newly weds and scoffing at those who would try to court hir.

Many a year had ze spent enjoying d&d free (d&d = drug and drama, not dungeons and dragons) misadventures punctuated by moments of friendly though transient intimacy when ze moved to the “lesbian capital of the east coast.

Ze spent months alone in a castle-like estate amid all manner of vagrancy and partyers. Ze was in search of employment that never seemed to manifest, in search of stability that eluded hir, in search of something ze had no point of reference for, and it was with a predictable yet all the more virulent strain of frustration that. Ze was afflicted.

When the squalor of the house seemed overwhelming, ze cleaned. Ze did most anything ze could to avoid leaving until one sweltering mid-morning ze woke to an anxious cross-between-a-squeal-and-howl that wouldn’t stop. The neurotic canine lept around in the filthy of the living room, rubbing his head manically into the clothes strewn about the decaying surplus of salvaged furniture. Driven uncharacteristically on edge, ze packed hir books, sketchpad, and laptop and took off.

In search of a path, ze stumbled into a SesamePride planning meeting. Others may have stayed because the event was a first, with all the attendant excitment and intrigue, but ze stayed because it was something to find direction in, something to get lost in, something to get found in…

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Beat of Urban Hip Hop: A review

The Beat of Urban Art: The Art of Justin Bua The Beat of Urban Art: The Art of Justin Bua by Justin Bua

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
The author has developed the art of story telling through the combination of visual and written means. It's a story book for adults that features the history of hip hop through an autobigraphical lens. The composition of words and images is intriguing and brings with it all the vibrancy of city life in a highly stylized and idiosyncratic language.Fun and beautiful book.

View all my reviews.

Personal Update: Job

I won a veggie peeler today.

After 6 months of searching for a job and only finding temporary work, I’ve finally broke down and became an independent contractor with a corporate marketing company. I think that means I sold out.

I’ve spent three days being bombarded by incentive programs, get-rich-quick ambitions, and luxury car examples braided through company lore. I don’t know how to relate in the strange landscape of salesmanship were everything is a contest and success is an attitude platitudes are planted along every path.

It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I sell knives. Rather, I am getting trained to get paid to visit people who have been referred to me through my social network and show them a few party tricks with high-quality cutlery. As my boss pointed, “They will always want it. That’s not your job. You just ask if they are buying it or get the names of who will.”

I’ll be doing about thirty hours worth of training, which I’m not getting paid for. I had to work through the first weekend. I am having trouble brainstorming people to show because I haven’t been in the area too long. My success is very much in question.

My goal for the night is to get an appointment. For the weekend is to get a sale. For the week, I wouldn’t mind earning a leatherman, but I’d settle for a pay check.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Response to Class Blog

Someone in my life has been keeping a class blog. She writes in it everyday. She doesn't have to. She doesn't even have to think about class. But she's committed to it. I respect that. A lot.

The following is a post she made of an interaction we had, and then my response.

"four cabbage perogies, four potato perogies, and the same for you...together or separate?"


"what do you think?"

"ahh, i don't know."

"you suck at making decisions"

"that's true! ahhh"

"it's up to you - together or separate?"


wtf happened? what does it have to do with class?

What happened was that you offered to pay, and that made me uncomfortable.

I thought of when I worked at Panera, and the couplings of old ladies would doggedly seek out my cash register at the most conceivably inopportune segment of busy o’clock in order to argue teasingly about who would pay. Each would throw their preferred method of payment onto the counter for me to choose while they exchanged strings of compliments and I-owe-you-so-muches with one another, occasionally professing to me, “how good of a friend she’s been to me all these years.” On good days it was coquettish and endearing, but on bad days, I wanted to pick up the damned cash/card and say, “We are getting 6 dollars and hour. We aren’t allowed to accept tips, but why don’t one of you adopt a Panera worker in the other’s name if ya wanna do somethin’ sweet?”

I thought about how you paid before, at Haymarket, and it didn’t seem fair for you to do it again. Fairness means equal, right? Except I know better. And you’ve told me you do too.

I reminded myself that I don’t have a job and you do, and I cashed in my last savings bond to pay the minimum balance on my credit card. I felt frustrated that I don’t have a job. I felt disappointed that we weren’t gonna act out that old lady scene. I wanted that generosity back in my life. I felt like I had lost the opportunity to do something nice for someone I care about. I recognized that that was a freedom you were exercising.

So I joked about my indecision, (which does, in fact exist). I let you pay, and I recognized that those miniature jolts of guilt and shame I was feeling had a little something to do with internalized class oppression. And I decided that having you around was good for my class-consciousness.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Privilege Walk


Privilege walk n. - A clever game devised to raise consciousness, to help people apply abstract concepts to their lives, to their classrooms and workshop spaces. It all begins by standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a row down the middle of an empty room (If you wanna make it more intense, the participants can also hold hands). One person reads off of a list, commanding the others to step forward if ___ (fill in the blank with any given marker of privilege) and to step backwards if they experience x, y, or z instance of oppression. The object is for everyone to take at least one step forward and at least one step backwards. The object is to see how these looming concepts intersect with your experiences. The object is to illustrate how both privilege and oppression apply to all of us, but also to highlight how we experience them differently than other people. Differently from people we already relate to.

So I’ve done a privilege walk or two in my life. Hell, I’ve led a couple. Each time I’ve found it captivating, scary, enlightening, and surprising. Each time I realize I know much more than the last but not nearly enough somehow. It wasn’t until my last privilege walk though, that I got a little hurt in the process.

*The real thing*

Tables eked familiarly across the hard wood floors of the tiny one-room cabin, where I had participated in this exact exercise weeks before. Arriving late but feeling none-the-less prepared, I nestled myself in-between a queeny man and the straightest, blonde I know.

As we began, the game unfolded itself similarly to before, which is to say that I found myself in the back quarter of the room almost immediately but with some company.

A dainty hand tugged on my own a little less with each question, transforming the knowledge of belonging to marginalized categories into the feeling of being left behind. From the beginning I had accepted that it was only a manner of time before I let go of her finely manicured hand. She tried harder than I did to keep contact, taking progressively smaller steps forward until the impending fracture was inescapable.

As the questions grew harder, the flamboyant one on my left was in lock step with me, our bodies shifting uncomfortably as we watched the rest of the class approach the front wall one declaration of security and virginity at a time.

Step backward if you have ever been put in a position to lie about your sexual identity out of fear. We flashed one another an uneasy smile as our feet shuffled in reverse. Comradery felt like our fleshy palms greeting one another warmly.

Step forward if your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be. The fissure between us began with a hot wave of shame accompanying my stillness in the face of twenty unhesitating steps. That wasn’t a revelation, but damned if I needed the reminder.

Take a step forward if your parents graduated from college. Another moment of feeling the harness of my past burden me. I thought about stepping anyway, but couldn’t bring myself to lie. I had noticed that any given student had parents who were in medical school or went to far-flung places on business trips, but the cumulative effect of the word “professionals” had not come to bear on my mind yet. My vein attempt to conjure an image of childhood in the context of office jobs and grad placement was interrupted by the nagging sensation that I was loosing grip with the last warm body in my vicinity.

There were a thousand small injuries that more-or-less nicked the surface of my armor that day. They were tiny charges of fear, ounces of memories I’d rather not been subjected to, but all-in-all they were things I knew, things I had dealt with, things I may even have been able to admit. But the questions kept placing us further and further apart. Two separate times the entire class had to take a couple steps back in order to afford more space to those whose noses pressed up against the front wall of the room.

By this point, he and I were several steps behind the others, knowing that two outstretched fingertips stood between us and the obscure form of loneliness that came from participating in a private education that didn’t belong to us. It was as if we hoped that by virtue of extending ourselves we could ward off that moment when one of us would leave the other behind for the last time. No one else would know if we let go. But we would.

Take a step forward if there were more than fifty books in the house that you grew up in. I froze. A sharp intake of breath later, he was gone. Really, they all had fifty books? It suddenly occurred to me that I had never seen my mother read any book. Ever. Surely, I was exaggerating. I searched my mind desperately, probed for instances of newspapers or pop science magazines, on that day even a cheesy romance novel could have been my salvation.

How did I even know she could read? I mean, I’ve always assumed it, but truthfully, is there anything in my mother’s life that would be different, if she were illiterate. I scanned through the list of things I watch her do: carpentry, plumbing, sketching, fixing stuff, cooking- not a single word-centered activity I could think of. I panicked. What if she was?

The space between my mother and I suddenly took on geometrically large proportions. This place I chose to spend so much of my time, her money, and my good credit on suddenly became a symbol of all the things I loved that she never would understand. It wasn’t just that she had never been to college, that she never was given the luxury of space and time to figure out what mattered to her, that she hadn’t been taught what to do with it even if she had ended up with it.

I realized that my mother’s never read a book that changed her life. I’d grow out of it, she told me growing up. Here I was growing into academia, growing into queer theory departments and primary research. Here I was growing into my conferences and workshops, growing into my multicultural education class. Growing into someone she never had the chance to become.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


I was thinking today about the connection between domestic violence and state violence, about violence that comes from desperation and the enforced poverty of our economic system. I was thinking about what role choice plays in violence and whether coercion itself is a form of violence. I was thinking about my relationship with my mother and her relationship with the military, about dependency and abuse, about my past...

Here is a poem I started a while ago but that still isn't finished. I want it to be better- clearer, more direct, more personal. But details are hard these days. I'm working on it.

I tried to write you a letter today
The pen, tossing and turning,
Bold typeface grasping and yearning,
For words that might makes sense
Against the backdrop of our estrangement
Against the space and time we don’t know our way through
Against the walls laid over bricks and years
Mortar bound in custom granite, tears
Mortar rounds in children’s ears
Sound like each time the streets reverberate with
An invocation to bring wars home
landing too close to the home I never had
In the seventeen year old signature
that was desperate enough to exchange twenty years
for security, poor medical care and a pension.
In the throbbing veins of his neck synchronizing
With his grip pressing me firmly against the wall
As spit shrapnel bombarded my face.
In the smoke-glazed eyes that couldn’t find
the courage to soften for your daughter
once in twenty years and counting.
You’d think I would have learned how to write to you
During the absences that permeated my childhood
with the stale bitterness of sea salt and engine oil
Fermented over the six months you lived on
Meclazine* and the conviction that you were better
than those Dirty, poor people.
How much anger can I write away or leave behind
Like not-so hidden mines
Exposed partially but fully loaded?

*Naval generic of sea sickness medication

“I am going to write a poem today”

*Warning weird and the first poem in months. Literary criticism invited*

I am going to write a poem today,
lit by the flickering memory of your gestures,
hunched and buckled, hard-bellied
with tweezers in-hand, oddly akin to
the staunchly stubborn postures we both have taken,
molded our bodies over barbed-wire
that we may escape comparison
to the soft tenderness of a raw sore.
I am going to write a poem today,
Because I feel like punching bruises,
Peeling up the encrusted corners of scabs, and
Plucking each word like an unwanted body hair,
snatching it painfully from the taunt layers,
buried underneath who I’ve learned to be
amidst expectations that guild the silence
in unmistakable shades of anticipation and wax burn.
I am going to write a poem today,
Even though I let us pace ourselves in circles,
Tangential, smooth, going nowhere
while we will poke at spaces in-between
the bent and contorted, turning inwards, spines
that have formed pustules not-quite beneath the surface
and pretend that we don’t have ingrown hairs.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Updated Children's Book list

Inspired by an awesomely sweet person in my life, I've went ahead and added 20+ titles to my radical children's book list. This includes adding categories for latino culture, immigrants, labor, anti-racism, interracial, animal rights, etc. and weeding out some of the primitivist variety.

[Click on the title of this post for easy access to list]

Butch Is A Noun: Audio Exceprts

Okay, this is my last promo for Butch Is A Noun, I swear it.

I know most people will not end up reading Butch Is A Noun, so I thought I'd post the three essays that resonated most with me from it. I guess I feel like they each convey a little shard of who I am, and ones that I'm not necessarily disposed to expose.

without further adoo...

"Wrestling" by Bear Bergman
read by Chlirissa

"When I Can't Help" by Bear Bergman
read by Chlirissa

"Why I'm Not A Nice Young Man (Yet)" by Bear Bergman
read by Chlirissa