Week seven in ephemera: Reads!

Decent Reads:

My friends know that I love to read. Saying “I love to read,” feels inadequate most of the time; I must read or I begin to feel frantic, unsettled, even desperate. A while back I shared an article about bibliotherapy and when I first came across the concept, nothing felt so real as that possibility. Besides comics and graphic novels, I haven’t shared what I’ve been reading (except for the online articles and essays, of course). Now, I’ll start sharing both current reads and some past reads that impacted me in such a way that I don’t forget them (and I forget things easily – whoops).

Current Reads:

Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt | First, I love Colson Whitehead. I loved Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, and Zone One. Still haven’t read John Henry Days. I’m only partway through Apex, so I’m not going to say what I think about it beyond the fact that I’m enjoying it. I enjoy satire. Also, it’s common for me to read old stuff. I don’t like having hype in my head when I’m reading something, so unless it’s “summer reading” (more on that later), I’m going to be at least a few years behind. This one was published a decade ago.

Colson Whitehead's Apex Hides the Hurt (2006).
Colson Whitehead’s Apex Hides the Hurt (2006).

~Damn! After I saved the initial draft of this post and continued to waste time in FB-land, I saw this feature on Whitehead regarding his latest, The Underground Railroad. Hype or no (and there’s a lot), I’ll be reading this as soon as possible.~

Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day | Speaking of old stuff, the publication date is 1948. It holds up, so far! I don’t know if it’s because I grew up curious about my family’s experiences of the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland (and their subsequent shifts in identity, dispossession/displacement, place-making, and belonging), but sometimes I appreciate a good WWII novel. I imagine, sometimes, who my grandmothers were before they had children, especially when I read stuff from this era.

Summer Reads:

Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton | I read this a few years ago and was into it. It’s based on Cooperstown, New York, where I once spent a few humid and resentful days following my dad and brother around the baseball museum and not even bothering to be interested. Looking back it was actually a weird and cool place but at the time I thought sports were crap, unless we were talking about Wimbledon, the giant slalom, or basketball (basically everything my brother was disinterested in – note the theme). Anyway, back to the novel: it’s messy and is about the messes hidden in family lore and reality. I like that stuff.

More recently, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies | Fates was on the fast-read shelf at the public library and I recognized Groff’s name. You’ll see in the review I’ve linked to that it was a huge book last  year but I’d missed that, such is the strength of my hype-aversion. Again, it’s messy and and is about the messes hidden in long-term relationships and family lore. There’s a Weeki Wachee Mermaid, there’s some weird intrigue, and apt descriptions of post-college house parties full of frenemies and acquaintances.

Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor | Noted above, SH is one of my favourite summer reads. I was lucky enough to spend at least part of every summer by the coast in southern Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, growing up. My extended family lives all over New England and I miss the region dearly the summers I can’t get back east. So many summer novels about vacation homes, islands, and beach living are about white people; white people with money and the mostly white townies whose world is disrupted/perhaps controlled by their brief presence each year. Sag Harbor, and Dorothy West’s The Wedding, an earlier example, share narratives of black Americans vacationing in beach towns (Long Island in the former, Martha’s Vineyard in the latter). Both novels describe parallel summer communities that have little to do with the more well-known white enclaves. For me, I love having that dominant narrative of summer life cracked; it’s only one story after all, and there are so many more.

Transformative Reads:

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels | Definitely an exception to my hype-aversion; I didn’t know about them at first but got into and read all of the first three just before the release of the final, fourth, novel. Lifelong friendships are complicated, just as family is complicated, but women are sold a particular idea of being bosom buddies that’s crap, much like romantic comedies are crap. These novels are brutally honest and beautiful. I’ve read several of Ferrante’s other novels as well, and recommend them. People have been talking about the infamously trite cover art of the North American editions. Here’s the latest on that.

Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets | I have a soft spot for this series and am reading new-to-me issues that I’ve missed. My absolute favourite is Maggie the Mechanic. I prefer Jaime’s work but Gilberto’s is bizarro good. Love, broken hearts, sex, punk rock, adolescent punks, aging punks, California – all the good stuff. Why was it transformative? I love the way these dudes write and draw women, loneliness, alienation, and home.

Lucy Knisley’s Relish | The guy whose comics drawing class I’m taking (Gareth Kyle Gaudin of Perogy Cat fame) loaned me this book right when I started the class. Before reading this, I kinda felt too uncool to attempt sharing stuff via comics but on reading Relish, I recognized my own relationship to food and art and travel in Knisley’s storytelling. I aspire to her way of telling the story visually.

Marsha Hewitt and Claire Mackay’s One Proud Summer | I read this book as a kid and given that my grandparents were part of the Polish expat and Anglo communities in Montreal and my dad was a year old at the time of the 100-day cotton millworkers strike in Quebec, it blew my mind. My mind was blown by Lucie, the 13 year-old protagonist, who Norma Rae’d her way around for justice. I was used to young adult fiction about American (hello, Newberry Award winners), but this was about Quebec, and it was about something that actually happened, and it was radical.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading this far!




Week six in ephemera.

On slaves in the White House.

I try to stay away from current affairs because keeping a legit news reading list would be a full-time job. Buuuuuuut, everybody was talking about Michelle Obama’s explicit naming of the fact that slaves built the White House. Why would she do that? If we talk about American history in full, we have to talk about everybody’s history, from multiple perspectives not just the (literally) white-washed dominant narrative. And the image of her two black daughters playing on the lawn of the house that black slaves built is a powerful, monumental message. If you’d like to read some historically astute responses to claims that the First Lady was “over the top” or (ugh!) race-baiting, here you go: interview with Jesse J. Holland, the author of a recently published history of African American slaves in the white house; Julie Hirschfeld Davis factchecks for the NYT; and Peter Holley tracks the glitterati of Twitter on the topic.

#BlackLivesMatter in Canada, as we need to be reminded over and over again. A recent incident in Ottawa, not far from where I grew up, had (white) people in Canada shocked that police brutality against black people happens (for more information about what I’m referring to, check the #JusticeForAbdi hashtag on social media). It should not be shocking, but angering, galvanizing, even. Our strange, seemingly passive, national pride built on mutations of British politeness is dangerous, and it needs to change (and the narrative of who Canadians are, and indigenous folks are, for example needs to change). A #BlackLivesMatter in Canada reading list has been compiled. Lets check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.

Marjorie Liu, the creator of Monstress, a bitching comic series I mentioned last week, talks to NPR about how rejection shaped her work. You’ll find the transcript button under the “play” button for the recording. And, as my friend Sabrina says, it’s amazing. Do yourself a favour and read Monstress!

More on the comics front, a list of top comics to read at the beach this summer, courtesy of some comic creators (including the aforementioned Marjorie Liu). I am obsessed with Paper Girls! It’s not an exhaustive list so if you want to turn some folks onto something new, leave a comment!

A few weeks back I referenced and shared an article on how the net is not neutral because algorithms are overwhelmingly developed by white dudes. Further news on this front: WikiLeaks is losing the plot (perhaps never really had it in the first place) in terms of being on the pious vanguard of radical net activism. Speaking of how we get our information and who we trust, the NYT Magazine has a big piece on what’s going on for journalism right now, including several first-person interviews with folks from standard print publications and newer digital publications.

Speaking of pious, how about these holy Sisters of Twitter, eh?

I’m getting ahead of myself here so I’m going to wrap up with something personal. Outside on the beauty of silence when you run (no music, no podcasts, no conversation, just let the ambient sounds of your immediate environs wash over you). Of course, when I run, it’s in near absolute silence, as hearing aids like to fuck shit up when they get humid or damp and that’s no fun for me. And I love intentional, dedicated allotments of silence.

I’ll leave you here this week. The bike photo is from my route to the swim spot I frequent as often as possible. It was abandoned in the twilight, in the middle of a park. Twilight makes everything beautiful, to me.

Week five in ephemera.

I’m not done with public libraries yet, and I have no shame. This beauty is a slice of the of struggles to desegregate US “public” libraries. From a New Jersey public library treasurer, in 1945: “Wednesdays’ short hours were enough for the children, Trumaine said, because “we don’t believe in social equality for Negroes. We don’t want our white children associating with them on the same level. The Negroes are a different race. They should be proud of it but keep to themselves.””

Storytime Underground is a rad collective of youth librarians challenging the idea that libraries have ever been neutral, and the power and responsibilities of librarians, whether they recognize it or not.

I don’t have Pokemon Go on my phone, but I find the phenomenon fascinating; this brief piece captures the game’s positive potential. A friend gave me a brief orientation on her phone today and I’ll admit it was pretty adorable and has a strong draw.

A brief history of BC’s Great Coal Strike and how racism and racial exclusion hurt labour movements.

The trends in unionizing digital media workplaces:

We are, on some level, at ease with precarity. Not just the hoverboard-riding, “trim 20-somethings” we stereotypically associate with today’s newsrooms, but all of us. It’s critical to remember, however, that job security has a relative value. Older workers, people of color, women, and those from low-income backgrounds tend to need it more. For them, the traditional gains of collective bargaining—protection from firing and discrimination, pay increases, and health insurance—remain essential.

I’m so stoked about this, and I hope you are too: Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey are writing Marvel Comics’ World of Wakanda! You gotta check this out (later this year). And in the meantime, look for Monstress.

I really enjoy the transcripts of the NPR podcast, Planet Money. Which means, frankly, I just really enjoy NPR and Planet Money because it is good stuff which I know because they provide free transcripts of their programming right where they post the audio programming. This is kind of a “duh” in my book, but my experience and enjoyment of podcasts and radio programming is hella limited because the minds of hearing programmers and producers and media conglomerates can be hella limited. ANYWAY, Planet Money talked this week about when women stopped coding. Do not fret, my hearing friends, you can listen to the podcast at the very top of the transcript. Imagine!

I do go on, don’t I? No need to answer that. I have more to share, so please check back next week, pals! And thanks for reading this far, you’re some fuzzy in-season peaches.

Week four in ephemera.

If you’ve known me for at least a little while, you know I love libraries. I love the concept of literature, art, and community, as well as internet access, being available for free. In rural areas libraries can offer an escape plan, a way to learn more about one’s environs, and a way to gather with others. In urban areas, they provide all of the above as well as a place for adults who may be retired, unemployed, or without an office, to spend some of their time, clean bathrooms, the internet, comfy chairs for naps, sometimes access to video games, etc. I’m missing a lot here, but this is what comes to mind quickly.

I worked in a small town public library for six years and it’s still the best job I’ve ever had, even though I was a sulky, alienated teenager who couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge for my entire tenure. The steady mentoring, community-building, and unlimited access to books, VHS tapes, and CDs without fines were the empowering and enlightening ticket to a kind of freedom that high school was not. Good lord, what a love song! If you’re indifferent to libraries, keep reading – I’ll be talking about other stuff.

A lifelong fantasy of mine, unsurprisingly, has been to live in the library. Public libraries used to have caretakers and their families living behind the stacks. The US Senate has approved the appointment of Carla Hayden, country’s first woman and first African-American Librarian of Congress. Apparently it’s been rare to have an actual Librarian in that position as well.

More awesome library stuff: #BlackLivesMatter reading lists for youth from a librarian for Hennepin County (MN) Library, and everybody from the Oakland, CA public libraries.

Vancouver Public Library has a Residential School reading list, a mix of memoir, anthology, novels, and at least one graphic novel. So much for everyone to learn about North American (a colonial place name) history and why reconciliation is a deep, deep, multi-generational project.

Jenna Wortham complicating queer positivity and acceptance during Pride month.

A good deal of discussion of the changing face of ‘the Left’ has been happening for ages (when hasn’t it, really?). Lately, very real resistance to identity politics by writers, activists, and organizers positioning themselves on the left, while Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, and other significant movements led by POC and Indigenous people are naming the structural and personal marginalization of their communities, has been erupting. ‘Social Justice Warrior’ has become a slur against folks advancing certain arguments with certain methodologies online. We Are the Left has issued a rebuttal to these continual attempts to erase identity politics from what could be a vibrant, complex, and sustainable collective of leftist communities.

Technology is never neutral. Algorithms originate from white dudes who build the internet. Of course, I’m being simplistic because I’m not a tech writer, but this is, essentially, what happens.

I used to watch so much TV. And you know what I didn’t see, growing up? Deaf folks who weren’t old or fully embedded in Deaf culture. Sure, I saw different aspects of myself reflected: white, middle class, dorky (cringeworthy, really), English-speaking, and that is a distinct privilege. However, let’s see some different (aka realistic) portrayals of folks with disabilities.

It’s been a tremendous end of term for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) this spring, in part because the more liberal justices were fighting back on abortion, after the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death. So it’s time to demand reproductive justice; it’s time for an abortion renaissance!

The Trudeau government is apparently pro-science and pro-evidence and there’s more hope among harm reduction activists across Canada despite the grossly sluggish response of the BC government to an alarming number of overdose deaths in the past year. This week, the City of Toronto has approved three supervised injection sites and their next step is applying to the federal government. In the US, opioid dependency has skyrocketed over the last decade, due to over-prescription of OxyContin. Big Pharma and the close relationship between between drug companies and medical practitioners have created a dangerous cocktail. Racism, too, has played a part in this epidemic; the idea that opioid dependency in such high rates couldn’t happen in predominantly white communities. It seems that the collective white imagination still thinks of such drug issues as being a “black” thing.

Week three in ephemera.

Actually, I wish that all that’s been happening (or what I’m aware of of all that’s been happening) were actually ephemeral. I mean, I wish that state violence against POC, this week black and brown people in America, would just end. I wish it wasn’t generations upon generations of trauma revisited every day, and reenacted all the time. You know the saying, “if wishes were horses”? Yeah, me too. But I wish it anyway.

My social media is glutted with first-person accounts, including the videos of black people dying, in real time, at the hands of police officers, which I have not watched. It includes footage of the Black Lives Matter – Toronto taking a much needed stand against the consistent tokenism and erasure of queer POC in Pride festivities year after year. It also includes the latest bombing by ISIS in Baghdad (ISIS is not representative of Islam, and people need to get that, like, immediately). And, competing for space in my feeds is the continued violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

But, there are many things to read and educate ourselves with, particularly if we’re white:

This is what white people can do to learn about and support Black Lives Matter. A letter to well-meaning white friends in a similar vein (we need to read it again and again and go beyond).

The common narrative I’ve read in western coverage of ISIS is that recruits or volunteers are poor, disenfranchised, and looking for escape. This could be wrong, or changing very fast.

Even the way we access the internet is off because of racism.

Yesterday was AltPride in Victoria/Lkwungen and WSANEC territories (so great to see the snail trail getting dropped in my neighbourhood). Today is “regular” Pride. Much respect, love, anger, and solidarity to the queerlings in my life.

It’s been a week. I have more to say, so please do check back. Much gratitude to Lin-Manuel Miranda for the pithy, loving tweet this week.



Week two in ephemera.

The world is going to pot on the daily (hasn’t it always already been?). So, some stuff of inspiration: the women kicking ass as Guardian Angels fighting harassment and violence on NYC’s subways; the Perv Busters!

Less inspiring: how the rich controls the media by silencing journalists. Terrifying.

The Reluctant Memoirist has appeared on a few lists and made the rounds, but it’s a compelling example of how journalist Suki Kim’s gender and race impacted the way her work has been perceived and critiqued in media and publishing circles. From the article:

“As an Asian female, I find that people rarely assume I’m an investigative journalist; even after I tell them, they often forget. Having spent my formative years in America not speaking English, I know how to be mute; my accent sometimes makes people assume I am naïve. I am good at disappearing. I am aware that such apparent weaknesses can in fact be advantages.”

Speaking of a journalist going undercover to get the story: I haven’t been paying close attention, but so far I’ve not seen critiques or categorizing of Shane Bauer that the reluctant memoirist in question above faced. Something to chew over? And, the impact of the prison industrial complex in the United States is one that has been horrifying to watch (and prisons are already horrifying).

I was a front line social worker for eight years and harm reduction was always part of the services I provided, regardless of the position of organizational leadership. If, for a minute, you think it’s alright to write people who use drugs off because you’ve never had that issue, I hope you read this. People are people. The people I worked with and that our community lost are still with me today; memories knocking any self-serving piety out of me on the daily.

Since it’s July 1st, or where I live, Canada Day, I have to add some “CanCon.” Last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Report (TRC) was released to the federal government and general public. This spring, a TRC Reading Challenge was started, and people have been pledging to read or listen to a reading of the Report in its entirety. I signed as a means of intentionally pursuing reconciliation in the present and future. For more information about Canadian history as it relates to ongoing colonial structures, read Lynn Gehl / Gii-Zhigaate-Mnidoo-Kwe’s Algonquin-Anishinaabekwe love letter.

Thank you for reading!


Analytical unemployment.

When things get me down, I get overanalytical. A month into unemployment–granted, not that long–I’ve noticed a thing. It seems like anyone might take this as a “duh, goes without saying,” thing. But for the first time in my adult life, I stopped short and thought about it.

Why is it that when bureaucratic employers test applicants for positions in clerical roles, they seem to test only for proficiency with hard copy and electronic file management, Microsoft Office (or other software), legislation, policies, customer service, teamwork, conflict resolution, and more, but not the ability to talk on the phone? In short, they test for all the things but that one thing?

In the process of applying for clerical positions, the requirement of communicating by telephone has come up in some but not all job postings. Yet, testing for the ability to communicate via telephone is not done, nor is testing for appropriate communication over the telephone. It’s just assumed that all people who may have the experience and skills to provide customer service, problem solving, and legal/policy support will also be hearing and speaking, and a specific kind of hearing and speaking.

On a personal level, I’ll not be applying for these jobs anymore, though I passed at least two levels of screening for one position before the ability to communicate on the telephone came up. It was a waste of their time and my time. I hesitated to write about it here because I hate feeling like I’m whining about a very specific example of a very large societal issue. And it’s a vulnerability thing too, oh yes. But, ah, it needs to be said, and I’m learning to talk about it more, not just when my back is up against the wall and disclosure is the only option, but because it’s an aspect of being human, no less than or more than any other. (Just like unemployment).




This week in ephemera.

Curiosity didn’t really kill the cat. Curiosity gives life to ideas and actions. Here, I share my curiosity. Conversations with myself (and anyone else) are usually ephemeral. Even after they’re gone, wisps floating away from my brain, I know they were interesting.

Things I’m curious about right now:

Brexit: what the hell, Britain?! And, where to from here? Six key points. Could it be an opportunity for antiracist movements to grow? And some Canadian snark.

I’m always thinking about this one, but can reading fiction be your therapy? And is it possible to talk about self-care and therapy without assuming that happiness is the end goal? What about contentment, joy, even curiosity? In a depressed state any of these are harder to come by, possibly, and happiness seems to be too specific for attainment.

Assumptions that being coupled is inevitably better for humans grate. I could share loads of articles supporting that hypothesis and probably just as many refuting it. Instead, I’m celebrating the singletons I know and love with this 1936 advice column. Stay defiant, stay gold.

Oof. This is rape culture, not party culture. Make no mistake.

There’s more, so check back!