Not surprisingly, I spend a lot of time reading. I’d love to say that a lot of that reading is pleasure reading, but I seem to be cursed with a never-ending stack of books. That said, I do read a lot of news, commentary, and essay, especially recently.
The problem is that I start to lose track of it all. In the middle of a conversation with a friend or during discussion in class, I’ll remember something I’ve read, something interesting I’ve learned, but I won’t be able to place it. Where did I read that? Was it the NY Times or The Atlantic? Or was it a podcast I listened to?
There should be a word for this—the state of knowing something, somewhat vaguely, but unable to place how you know it or where the knowledge came from. It feels a little like a dream, and if you just tried hard enough, you could recall where it came from. Instead, you’re left unsatisfied. It’s especially frustrating when it’s something I think I later want to find again. I’m usually pretty good about saving links, but then it’s a question of where I saved it: Is it in my Facebook saved links? Was it something I liked on Twitter? Did I bookmark it in Chrome? Was I reading it on my phone or on my laptop?
So I thought I’d use this space to list (and keep) some articles I’ve read this week, particularly ones that have left me thinking, ones that I want to make sure I save for later. A brief excerpt from each piece follows.
“Despair is Not a Strategy: 15 Principles of Hope” by Abby Brockman (Medium)
Hope can co-exist with other feelings. Grief and hope can co-exist. Fear and hope can co-exist. Disappointment and hope can co-exist. Sadness and hope can co-exist. As poet Yehuda Amichai writes, “A man doesn’t have time in his life to have time for everything. He doesn’t have seasons enough to have a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes was wrong about that. A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment, to laugh and cry with the same eyes, with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them, to make love in war and war in love.” Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit concurs in her book “Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities” where she writes: “A gift for embracing paradox is not the least of the equipment an activist should have.”
“The Coding of White America” by Holly Genovese (The AuntieBellum)
I, for a lack of a better term, code “white trash.” I have bad teeth, frequently say “ya’ll” and “how come,” and have a habit of running around South Philadelphia in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. t-shirt. It is one thing to have your hometown judged by your peers, but it is quite another to realize that qualities you possess, habits born of a lifetime that you don’t even realize you have, make you read as unqualified or unfit for your chosen profession.
“The Unbearable Whiteness of Baseball” by Joy Caspian King (NY Times):
Baseball used to be seen as a reflection of the country’s progress on race. Its 1947 integration, which predated the Civil Rights Act by 17 years, has been upheld as a sign of the sport’s essentially democratic spirit; generations of writers and thinkers, like Philip Roth, Don DeLillo and Chris Rock, found in baseball an embodiment of America’s great experiment, contradictions and all. But there was always a saccharine dimension to the idealism about the game: Baseball represented a very particular, buttoned-up version of American identity, and players who deviated from it were often subject to harsh criticism.
“Left Out” by Andrew McClutchin (The Players Tribune):
Baseball used to be the sport where all you needed was a stick and a ball. It used to be a way out for poor kids. Now it’s a sport that increasingly freezes out kids whose parents don’t have the income to finance the travel baseball circuit.
“Protest and Persist: Why Giving Up Hope is Not an Option” by Rebecca Solnit (The Guardian)
People have to believe that the myriad small, incremental actions matter. That they matter even when the consequences aren’t immediate or obvious. They must remember that often when you fail at your immediate objective – to block a nominee or a pipeline or to pass a bill – that even then you may have changed the whole framework in ways that make broader change inevitable. You may change the story or the rules, give tools, templates or encouragement to future activists, and make it possible for those around you to persist in their efforts.
To believe it matters – well, we can’t see the future. We have the past. Which gives us patterns, models, parallels, principles and resources, and stories of heroism, brilliance, persistence, and the deep joy to be found in doing the work that matters.
“Traffic Stop” (StoryCorps animation)
And, I remember an officer say, “If he doesn’t calm down, we’re going to have to shoot him.” I could feel the gun pressed against my head, and I expected to be shot. And at that point I lost consciousness. I woke up to a multitude of officers just standing around me laughing. One officer was like, “Where’s that warrant now you fucking nigger.” And it took 45 stitches to close up the lacerations in my face alone. How did it feel when you got the call that I was in jail?
PH: I was in the middle of teaching a second grade class. All she said was, “You’d better come see about your son.” She didn’t say anything about what kind of shape you were in.
AL: What about when you finally saw me?
PH: All I remember is involuntarily screaming.
“How the Design of Hotel Rooms Makes Housekeeping Invisible” by David Brody (The Atlantic)
However, [Maid in Manhatten] offers few hints of the disadvantages that women of color must contend with industry-wide regarding pay, job security, and safety. Viewers track Ventura’s rise as she unrealistically breaks class, race, and gender boundaries with ease; she ascends the corporate ladder, headed far above her initial station as a guest-room attendant. It’s a departure from the limited options that women like her tend to have in the real world. Ventura’s ability to rise above bed-making passes for entertainment, but in an industry that has long promoted labor’s invisibility, such a dramatic change in circumstances is just the latest in a long line of appealing illusions.
And some podcasts (because if you can’t read and drive at the same time, you can at least read and listen):
- Embedded: “Charlotte,” and “Flagstaff” examine stories behind videos of police shootings
- Freakonomics: “Why is My Life So Hard?” on common biases that cause us to feel more resentful and less grateful (the “headwinds and tailwinds” effect); “Did China Eat America’s Jobs?” explores, in a non-partisan way, the economics of globalization
- Hidden Brain: “Tribes and Traitors” on what happens when we learn to empathize with the “enemy.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about issues of diversity, class, and inclusion lately, so I suppose the list above reflects that. I think if I was disciplined enough, I could post a weekly list of the things I’ve read that have changed my thinking. It would be a way to not only hold onto and revisit my thinking, but also a record of my thinking at this point in time. I have no idea, for example, what I might have been reading this time five, ten, or twenty years ago—but it might be interesting to know.
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.