the stages of loving indie rap covers

You are young. You love Kanye but you’re not sure if you love rap ~yet~. Rap is still firmly rooted in things you don’t know (big booty bitches, drugs, THE STREETS). Kanye is different. He talks about being self conscious. You are also self conscious. It is 2004.

You go to college. You’re a freshman so you attend a concert on the lawn called Jam Fest. You listen to too much Jack Johnson sung by hot boys in hammocks playing the ukulele. You find this song and become obsessed. You realize that you can sing “hey ya” through the verses and still have it line up with the beat. You think this is a mashup like all the cool kids are doing but it’s just a way to annoy the hell out of your brother on a road trip. A taste for this genre is born.

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morning pages -or- how I really did that thing I’ve been trying to do for years

This is my obligatory blog post praising the practice of Morning Pages. I did not think I would be writing this blog post because I had tried so many other morning rituals before that never really felt right. I’d tried becoming an Idea Machine. I’d tried meditating in the morning (turns out morning meditation turns into snooze city). I’d tried to do sun salutations every morning (because sun, morning, duh). None of these things stuck and all of them felt overly time consuming and not really aligned with my personality.

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sometimes bathrooms aren’t just bathrooms

My bladder control has always been average at best.

 

The second time I peed my pants at school my teacher hadn’t believed me when I told her I REALLY REALLY had to go. I sat in my chair as the pee pooled at my feet and I put my head in my hands. It had happened to another kid earlier that year. I knew I would be remembered as the girl who peed her pants for an ETERNITY (in third grade, this was a week, or until the next class party). But I got to spend the rest of the day at home in my favorite dress and watching tv. Best of all, I had an out.

 

I didn’t particularly like my teacher in 3rd grade. Mrs. Klein* was cold and mean enough that my mother, also an elementary school teacher, broke her cardinal rule of NOT meddling in our schooling and requested my younger brother not be put in her class when he got to third grade. Any excuse I could think of to escape her classroom, I took. This embarrassment was a boon. An exit strategy. A boulder in a river of garbage.

Unlike the first and second grade bathrooms, the third grade wing was new and the bathroom was somewhat private at the end of the hall of classrooms. Even better, there was a handicap stall that was built for an 8-year-old-sized king. This brown metal rectangle became my refuge.

This is where I did my finest imagination work. I created two imaginary friends to keep me company for my long breaks in the bathroom. Two sisters, one older and one younger loosely based on the characters in Little House on the Prairie, met me there in the stall when I was bored with my own thoughts. They would tell jokes and braid each other’s hair and argue against the walls of the stall.

This is where I learned the basics of skin care. I’d wash my hands for long periods of time, toying with the soap in my hands, using them like bubble wands, until I began to feel the wrinkling of my fingertips. Then, depending on the mood I was in, I would experiment with drying. How much better did an ungodly amount of paper towel work versus a single sheet? Depends on the time you want to take drying your hands. How much of a difference did rubbing your hands under the dryer make? A big one. What rubbing speed was most effective? Moderate at first then, as you feel the slick of the water give way to spots of dry, vigorous.

This is where I learned how much time one can spend in a bathroom per day before people ask questions. You can squeeze out about 4 “pee” breaks (2-3 minutes each) and one “business” break (5-7 minutes). To get away with the longer end of the time frame, be sure to space these breaks out in hour+ intervals. I had the most success with 1 hour and 15 minutes. Be sure to hold your pee during times between these breaks so as not to throw off your break schedule. Always leave the room with the same amount of urgency so as to never appear as if you don’t actually have to go.

My bathroom breaks were my solace during that year in Mrs. Klein’s room. I don’t remember much of her classroom. I don’t remember having any friends in her class. I don’t remember any cool projects I did. But I wasn’t jaded on school or, even, on teachers because I had a safe place to run. Unlike today, adults spent little time imagining what happened in a 3rd grade bathroom.

In fourth grade I went on to be my weird, awkward self but I stayed in class. I liked my teacher. She made me feel welcome. I wrote poems in my free time instead of hiding. I didn’t need to cling to the boulder because the river wasn’t garbage anymore.

 

 

*name UNchanged, because teachers that make kids feel unwelcome and unwanted in their classrooms don’t get that kindness. don’t @ me Mrs. Klein

 

 

I’ve been afraid of changing because I build my life around you

It happens in the night. The moment you wake up and are unsure if you are still in your dream or in your bed. You reach for your person. They are next to you. You know you are in the waking world. You know you are safe.

It happens on your way home. You begin to think about what you need to do, what needs to be done, the maintenance of life that can sometimes seem crushing when your mind, body, or soul is exhausted. You think of your person. The weight of the uncertainty fades. You will go home to your person. You will be held in their arms for a moment. You will be able to carry on.

It happens when you talk to the people that love you. In their voice over the phone you can hear their earnestness. They want you to be happy. You want to prove that you’re happy. Your person is proof that you’re happy. You illustrate the ways you and your person’s lives are entwined to prove to them that you’ve found solid ground. To prove to yourself you’ve found solid ground.

 

The comforts of a life lived in tandem can sedate you for years. Like the right amount of good weed or a warm bath before bed, the air around you envelops you. You don’t notice that the source of its comfort is also the weight that makes it suffocating.

have as much self love as a mediocre white man

I want that authentic self kind of self love.

I want that white dude kind of self love.

I want that Song of Myself kind of self love.

 

I know that we are all aware of how much white dudes seem to love themselves. A solid 1/3 of the lets-try-and-understand-Trump articles revolve around how much he loves himself. White dudes still hold 2/3rds of all board seats in Fortune 500 companies. Most of western literature is just sympathizing with a dude struggling with his one problem: impotence. We envy their lack of reserve and their ability to just be who they are, because who they are is mostly accepted as the norm.

Can you imagine if you could love yourself as freely as a white dude does? Listen to Walt Whitman’s cover of Feelin’ Myself

And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,

Translation: I am a gift to the people from God. My spirit is kindred to the spirit of God.

I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal
and fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

Translation: Poor plebeians don’t know how amazing it is to be alive! If only they knew, like I know.

What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me,
Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns,
Adorning myself to bestow myself on the first that will take
me,
Not asking the sky to come down to my good will,
Scattering it freely forever.

Translation: Now she want a photo. You already know though. You only live once ‒ that’s the motto baby YOLO. And we ’bout it every day, every day, every day. Like we sittin’ on the bench, baby we don’t really play. Every day, every day, fuck what anybody say.

 

 

So I’m resolving to love myself like Walt Whitman loved himself. Fuck what anybody say.

What growing can a grown woman do?

“There are a lot of things that I have come to terms with leaving behind, but my Monday nights are not one of them.” My yoga instructor’s voice began to break as she lie supine on her mat. Through the mic she revealed to us, her Monday night class, that “You don’t know how much you have helped me. I began teaching during a dark time in my life and now I’m moving on to work on my Phd, and I couldn’t have done it without you all.”

As I lie on my mat, I thought about my own journey. At the moment of her litany, I stood at the beginning of a journey out of the town I grew up in, away from my family, from a teaching job, and on to try and make it in New York. I had two more weeks to go as a teacher and Kelly’s emotions were someone closed off to me. She was moving off to grow and expand. I felt that my move was something much different, something that didn’t fit with the growth vocabulary and metaphors we like to use for change. All I felt was guilty.

In the middle of the school year, I had become discontent. The pressures and stakes of teaching were too much. How could anyone expect me to be responsible for the education of 100 freshman? How could anyone expect me to do this without completely giving my life to the task? I began spending more time writing and less time thinking about teaching. I thought of it as investing in myself, and it was. I felt like teaching was taking more that I was willing to give. I felt like I had to find a way to reanimate my creative life, and the only way I knew how to do that was to disengage my emotional energies from teaching and reorient them to myself.

But there was an inherent problem I had with this. I had been told to “grow where you’re planted.” To many, this is a virtue. One should combat the dissolution with daily life by growing to love their daily life. It is an essential mind-fuck that women across generations know well. Women have always been less mobile. Their roles were in the home, with the babies, in the castle. To grow where one is planted often appears in the form of literal growth: Rapunzel’s hair, pregnancy, a garden. These were the avenues of achievement and fulfillment.

I felt this pressure. I stood in front of my students on the days that I felt I would rather be anywhere else and did the dance. I mimicked what I had done in the past when my heart was there. I would go home and try stave off the guilt of what I had just done. I knew as well as anyone that every day, every minute of class time is immeasurably valuable. My dad (who is also a teacher) tells his students that he never has a day off, that every day in his class he will show up, he will be giving his best, and he expects the same. But I couldn’t conjure the kind of energy it takes to do this. In the framework of growth, I felt my roots searching for water, becoming ingrown and tangled in themselves. I felt my senses dulling and my thoughts becoming recursive. I had to uproot. To imagine it this way was not only traumatic but also not exactly correct.

The idea of growth often pairs with taking up space. The older the tree the bigger it gets. I could imagine a life where I could achieve this. I could stay in front of the class and stretch my arms in care everyday until, out of sheer will, I grew the muscles to sustain this kind of care. I could become a large presence in my community, serving on boards, making a name for myself, etc. I have seen people do this. I have witness the beginnings of this in my peers. But these were not my goals.To grow in this way didn’t strike me as progress. I thought: I am a grown-ass woman. What growing could a grown woman do? 

My goal was more like alchemy. I moved because I want to change some of the dull and malleable elements of what I am to something more precious, refined, tested and enduring. It isn’t an attempt to leave behind any of the life I experienced in my hometown.  I didn’t want to leave my family, my students, my progress behind, but it is not the soil that is precious, it is the thing it grows. I didn’t uproot, I excavated, taking the raw materials needed to create a better self. 

I believe in the idea that things can change without shifting form. They can achieve progress without expanding. The most precious things are often made that way by melting, distilling, shaping. My success in this city will not be based on the amount of space I take up (in an apartment, in the minds of people, in the records of history). My success in this city will be based on the success of transformation.

Moralistic Meandering: Book Review

A few months ago, I read Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex,and Business and wrote a review for a website. The website didn’t run it for reasons I’ll simply describe as conflict of interest related.

I did some further research on this book and found a number of positive features. These articles interviewed the author or ran an article by the author as a tie in to the book or featured this book on a “best of” list.

And I don’t get it.

I don’t think those other sources read the same book I did. As you will see below, I think the book has some serious issues that, if left to be some kind of touchstone for morality in the modern age, could be pretty damaging. This got me thinking, how do books run press? How does the review/book press determine what is actually a good book? How many of us, when using the internet to direct us to our next read, think critically about the motivations of the sources of the recommendations?

These are questions I am exploring on my own. For now, here’s the review.

xoxo

an unimpressed reader


BEHAVING BADLY: THE NEW MORALITY IN POLITICS, SEX, AND BUSINESS

By Eden Collinsworth

Morality is as complicated a subject as it is relevant. The reasoning that creates arbitrary rules about intimate partnerships is the same reasoning that ensures communities condemn theft and murder. The creed that aligns an individual’s life with what they believe is right is also the same creed that elects officials and causes widespread fear. The topic of morality is incredibly nuanced and has been discussed by philosophers, theologians, and psychologists at length. In an age where discussions on morality are growing thornier, thinkers on the subject have their work cut out for them.

Morality is the subject of Eden Collinsworth’s new book, BEHAVING BADLY: THE NEW MORALITY IN POLITICS, SEX, AND BUSINESS. Following her success instructing Chinese businessmen in Western manners, Collinsworth attempts to construct a rulebook of modern morality through interviews and anecdotes.

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A Family Tree

Grandma is holding a ballpoint pen that lost it’s cap a long time ago. She is doing the crossword, like she does everyday. She flips through the grey battered dictionary on the coffee table. The packing tape holds the front cover on. She swiftly adjusts the pen so she can use the same hand to point her index finger and scan the page. She taps the page twice with a satisfying twip twips. She writes TRITIUM in permanent ink on 14 down. I wait until she is finished to ask what it means.

As I watch my Papa slide a worm onto the business end of a fish hook, the worm wiggles slightly. The baiting is a practiced, muscle memory movement. I think the man has baited more hooks than buttered bread. My shoes are stained with the red-dirt mud of the pond we fish in. When we arrived yesterday, he told us about the 3 pound bass he caught without any bait. Now he says, “this is the worm that will get you Big Wally.” His hand shakes, a tiny tremor. I imagine blood and the slow way a not-so-sharp point breaks skin. This is why he baits my hook for me. Papa hands the rod back to me, fingers unscathed.

Grandma’s small hands always seem to be doing some kind of important patting. This morning she formed biscuits like she’s burping a newborn. Across the living room she sits, making tight short stitches in in the quilt she’s working on. This is the part that binds the “guts,” as she calls it, to the pretty parts. When she’s finished, she will fold it just so it will fit inside a pillowcase. She will pat it twice and add it to the stack. Though she’s shown me a dozen times, I am never able to crease the corners just so.

Papa holds his right hand straight to show me the progress of his middle finger. His surgery was successful and now all four fingers line up. On his left, the middle finger creeps toward his palm. He looks like a reluctant yogi with his hand on the side of his armchair instead of in his lap. His hands almost coming together in an om. You can see the tendon dragging it down. “It’s from working all those years at Cotton Electric.” He takes the imaginary wrench into his hand, the only explanation for his condition, and tells me again about how he ran electricity to all the houses in the county.

My dad does this thing with his hands when he’s done eating. After throwing his napkin on his plate, he extends his arms and holds the palms of his hands up directly above his plate. Then he flips them a few times like a magician showing that he’s not holding your card under his palm. What he says changes, always something with the message of “all done,” but the hand gesture doesn’t. He pats his belly a few times and waits for the table to be cleared. Sometimes it is my job. Sometimes it is my mothers.

My brother’s fist pounds into his palm. I imagine if you zoomed in far enough you could see the small reverberation in the fatty part of his hand. He is pacing, telling me how his salary doesn’t actually cover his rent. I venture to say something like “if you stopped golfing on the weekends, you could have more money.” He know, he knows. But that’s not the point. He pounds his fist harder.

My dad is making a point. He alternates between the single-fingered point and the four-fingered point. I’ll know he’s winding down when he starts to turn his palms upward. When he lifts one up to the ceiling as if to say “what the hell?” I’ll know to give an emphatic apology. I think this time I forgot to pull my car into the driveway.

My brother’s hand is hot as we line up the heels of our palms. In this moment, his hands are still. Typically they are pointing at some invisible figure that illustrates his point. They are punctuating his joke with a clap. His fingers curl over my nails. I snap a karate chop at his exposed armpit. He is by baby brother.

This one’s for the girls

This one’s for the girls who cover their mouths when they ask for something.

For the ones who believe their inheritance is approval.

For the ones who took Jesus’s words to heart that you must lose your life to gain it.

For the ones who never had it to lose.

For the ones who iron shirts that aren’t their own.

For the ones who know that their monthly pain is their penance for Eve’s sin.

For the ones who drown out the sound of silence with scrubbing.

For the ones who love what hurts them for fear of being unloved.

For the ones who build palaces out of promises.

 

This one’s for the girls who the world says are women before they ever become grown.

10 quick things on immigrants, refugees, and non-native English speakers

There is a discourse going on in our country about immigrants, refugees, and non-native speakers. This discourse is heated and emotional but somehow incredibly detached from the individuals that are most affected.

My mom has been teaching ESL for over a decade in a city that, despite its desolate surroundings and relative isolation, is relatively diverse for Texas. She has taught English as a second language to native speakers of a dozen languages she does not know. (She doesn’t even know Spanish somehow.) What she does is an act of wit and witchcraft. And she’s damn good at her job.

Over the years, she taught me much of what I know about a population that is under attack more than ever. Her wisdom deserves more words, but most of the words on refugees and immigrants should be written and spoken by refugees and immigrants themselves. So here is a short list of things I think are worth noting.

  1. A person’s ability to speak a language does not correlate to their intelligence.
  2. Speaking very loud and very slow doesn’t usually help a person understand what you’re saying. This is especially relevant if you don’t have any intention of listening to their response.
  3. The circumstances of a person becoming a refugee are always out of their control.
  4. Many, many people who find themselves in this country did not choose to come to this country. (see #3) But many also know that part of assimilating in the United States means buying into American exceptionalism.
  5. School systems often only give a student a couple of years before they are tested on grade level and in English. There is not a translated test.
  6. Some people come to the states from refugee camps. Some students who are refugees have never been in a formal school setting. Some find the basics of a developed world terrifying. (One of my mom’s student’s was scared to tears at the flush of a toilet.)
  7. Some people come to the states from refugee camps. Some students who are refugees excelled in their school before circumstances out of their control took their school away. Some had lives that were way more comfortable than their life is in America.
  8. Sometimes people don’t want to learn English. This doesn’t mean that they can’t (see #1 and #4)
  9. Any official government process is incredibly difficult to navigate for a native speaker. (Think about all the things you had to read, gather, and do to get your driver’s license.) For non-native English speakers, this can be enough to go without things like government ID and aid. (Have you ever let your driver’s license expire because you didn’t want to bother with the DMV? I have. And I understand everything they’re saying.)
  10. The ability to speak a language shouldn’t determine your livelihood.