Monthly Archives: August 2013

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bye bye blogust

women working

Last day of Blogust, and my family is visiting me in Kansas City for Labor Day weekend. No time to write, so here’s a picture instead, which I found on the Fresh Air Tumblr.

seamus heaney died today

Irish poet Seamus Heaney passed away today. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1995, and he is widely considered the most important Irish poet since Yeats. He was a great writer, a naturalist, and had working class sensibilities, which generally covers everything that I find important in an artist.

These are some good poems.

Follower

My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horses strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.

Blackberry-Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

“at 20 a little coquette, at 50 a suffragette”

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, but the “I Have a Dream” speech is not the only landmark historical moment celebrating human rights in August. Monday marked the 93rd anniversary of the incorporation of the Nineteenth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

I noticed a post on my Facebook newsfeed that said “93 years ago today women were granted the right to vote! Count your blessings, ladies!” It made me wince. The word “blessing” implies an act of generosity from a higher power, such as a blessing from God. Women’s right to vote is not a blessing, or some grand gesture of mercy from powerful men to whom we should be grateful. Suffragettes began campaigning for the right to vote in the mid-nineteenth century, and they put up an resilient fight against the bigoted and vile status quo. It was hard work, not a blessing, that won women the right to vote. We should be thankful, to the likes of Susan B. Anthony and other women trailblazers, not to men, nor to God.

Here are some pretty incredible (“incredible” here meaning “unbelievably cruel”) anti-suffragette cartoons from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, courtesy of this post from The Week.

Suffragette1My personal favorite are the cartoons that prove slut-shaming has been alive and kickin’ since Eve used her *deceptive* and *sly* sexy parts to trick Adam into damning us all to the fires of Hell.Sufragette6

Mmm, look at those ankles and fiery red dress, the little harlot!Suffragette3USE

Amazing, over 100 years later and the rhetoric used against feminism has barely shifted. You’re a whore when you’re young and assert your sexual autonomy, and burned out and unwanted by the time you’re in your thirties, even if you are single by choice.

Throwback Thursday, am I right?

50 years after king had a dream, racial disparities remain

“Do you know why today is super important for American history?” This was the question I asked each of my students before classes began.

Most responded with, “No,” though one cheeky girl guessed, “hump day?”

“Close,” I said. “It’s actually the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a dream speech.”

“Oh,” said one of my second-graders, a feisty lady with dyslexia and perfect blonde curls. “So black kids can play with white kids and everyone can ride the bus together, right? I learned about it in the first grade.”

“I’m glad you did! Do you think we still have racism in America?”

“Nope!” she said happily.

She’s a sharp kid, but she’s wrong, of course. Race has reentered the national conversation in a big way within the last few months alone, from the murder of Trayvon Martin, for which neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was tried and found innocent despite killing an unarmed black teenager, to Miley Cyrus’ recent appropriation of black culture in her MTV Music Video Awards performance, during which she showed off her twerking skills and used black women as accessories on which to gyrate and bodies for consumption. Equality is clearly still a dream to be realized from a cultural perspective, but economic disparities haven’t much improved either. Consider this: on August 28, 1963, the demonstration led by King in D.C. fought demonstration was officially called “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

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 twelve-year old Edith Lee Payne at the March. photo courtesy of the Library of Congress by Rowland Scherman

So, fifty years later, how about those”jobs” and that “freedom”? Last week, the Pew Research Center released some pretty discouraging data in light of this question.

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The gap between the number of blacks and whites living above the poverty line has barely decreased, while the gap between the percentage of people who claim homeownership as actually widened a bit.

Plus, the unemployment rate for backs has consistently remained at double the percent of the white unemployment rates since 1954 (today, 13.4% unemployment rate for blacks and 6.7% for whites):FT_13.08.202_BlackWhiteUnemployment

Some gaps have actually widened, such as in the case of median household income, median household wealth and the marriage rate.

ST_13.08.22_RaceinAmerica-WEB_widened1Gaps have narrowed a bit in some areas too. More students of both races are graduating from high school, life expectancy rate has risen, and the 2012 presidential election witnessed 67% of eligible blacks cast their ballots, whereas 64% of eligible whites cast theirs. A bright spot, but far behind where we should be fifty years following “I have a dream.”

We’ve got the numbers that prove equality is illusory, and further, to claim color-blindness is to become complicit in a system that favors the majority.  Wrestle with that one for a bit.

tumblr_ms0qjaE3uG1s3ggdno12_r1_500 tumblr_ms0qjaE3uG1s3ggdno14_r2_500 tumblr_ms0qjaE3uG1s3ggdno17_r2_1280tumblr_ms0qjaE3uG1s3ggdno18_r3_1280 (all photos from the Library of Congress. Warren K. Leffler, photos 1, 4; Rowland Scherman, photo 2; Leonard Freed, photo 3)

kids who read, and little house in the ozarks

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On November 5, 1920, a fifty-three-year-old Wilder wrote in the Missouri Ruralist, “It doesn’t occupy our brains to peel potatoes … Our bodies learn to do the everyday tasks without much head-work, leaving our minds free to pass thru these windows and follow the fascinating ways that lead from them.” Wilder’s window was not in the kitchen of Rocky Ridge Farm, her home in Missouri, but in her mind. On this day, she floated out of it into “Shakespeare’s country,” lovingly describing the poet’s sixteenth-century England for the newspaper’s Midwest readership. It is no surprise that Wilder read Shakespeare; Western writing flows out of him like water from a deep well.

In How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, playwright Ken Ludwig celebrates the power parents have to introduce their children to literature. Ludwig’s investment in the cause is personal; when his daughter was in the first grade, he decided that “if there was any skill—any single area of learning and culture—that I could impart to her while we were both healthy and happy and able to share things together in a calm, focused, pre-teen way, then Shakespeare was it.”

Nowadays, it is accepted wisdom that Greene (and my mother) were onto something. One 2008 study confirms what Laura Bush and the rest of us already know—that children who are read aloud to have earlier language and literacy skills, becoming more likely to pick up a book down the road. In his autobiography, Salman Rushdie recalled his father reading him The Thousand and One Nights. Toni Morrison’s fiction also draws from the folktales her father told her. Did Shakespeare himself read to his children? We might have known, but his daughter died before the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon ever followed through on plans to interview her. We do know that he lived in London most of his life, seeing his family in the countryside only once a year.

It was Wilder, not Shakespeare, who informed my worldview. As a child, she urged me not to settle for the known world but to chase my own frontiers. The deeper lessons exemplified by the Ingalls about the importance of kinfolk only sunk in later, after I had left home for college in the Ozarks—Wilder’s own strange country—and found myself on my own. I think they are what my mother, who immigrated from Brazil to the United States in the early ‘80s, first saw in the books, and why she wanted to share them with my sister and me. It’s why she named me Laura.

from “Little House on Avon” by Laura C. Mellonnee from The Paris Review

a few notes

I don’t often come across pieces written about the Ozarks on The Paris Review‘s site. I lived in southern Missouri for twelve years–eight in the small town of Mountain Grove, four in Springfield, the Ozarks’ most metropolitan point–but if you ask me where I’m from, I’ll say Kansas City instead of those Ozark mountains, the geographical space I reluctantly called home in my formative childhood years.

When I think about the socioeconomic trap of the small town Ozarks (that is, the cyclical family system–kid born into poverty, educated in a school system that reinforces ideas that keep them poor instead of teaching substance and critical thought, high schoolers have no goals beyond marrying the hottest football player/cheerleader, twenty-somethings are divorced with kids, adults cooking meth to try and pay for their own addiction, whatever it might be, etc), and, to top it off, my own alienation from the natives thanks to my position as a child of European immigrants, I wonder why anyone would choose to move there. (RE Mellonee’s piece: Those kids are almost never taught to read by their parents. Maybe that’s part of the problem.)

Watching my middle school friends play out this cycle on Facebook is disheartening, but when the crumbling social relations are juxtaposed against the  natural space of the Ozark mountains, the dynamic suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. Every season entertains the senses; I remember, for instance, playing soccer in the backyard amongst the fireflies’ pulsing light and cicadas’ blaring hum in the heavy heat of the summer night, and inhaling the fresh smell of post-rain upon leaves of red and gold and orange that arch over you on a fall hike. What a strange backdrop for the poverty of the people who live within it. Humans and physical space. It just doesn’t fit.

…and a few more thoughts before I sign off, on the subjects of early reading

I’m currently in the process of organizing my books in my apartment (did I mention that I moved in three weeks ago?) I’m useless at this chore–I keep reading the novels and poetry and theory before it gets a chance to go from the floor of my living room to my bedroom. I sort of live in books, and I always have. This goes for Animorphs and The Babysitters’ Club books during my first-grade I-want-to-be-a-cool-teenager stage too as much as it does Junot Diaz or Tom Stoppard, by the way.

I teach kids who have dyslexia, and many of them hate reading. It’s understandable. They are embarrassed when teachers call on them to read out loud before their normal school classes, and they are frustrated when a word like “black” registers as “back,” and they can’t tell why by no fault of their own. I’m teaching them how to read, but equally as important, I so, so desperately want to teach them to love to read. I’m not sure how, so for now, I just give them my enthusiasm.

eighty years of the new yorker via advertising

Ads can be maddening. But they can also reveal quite a bit about how corporations appropriate evolving cultural and historical shifts for economic gain. I found a post on The New Yorker‘s blog featuring several ads from the past eighty years. Here are some of the best.

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1938

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1965

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1984

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music for your sunday

“Old Enough.” One of my favorite jam sessions, with The Raconteurs, Ricky Skaggs, and Ashley Monroe.

It’s been a busy week, and I’m not done yet. Happy Sunday.