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New KTCO: Kazim Ali

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with writer Kazim Ali. Kazim’s latest poetry collection, The Voice of Sheila Chandra, uses sound to explode meaning and explore silence and voicelessness, bringing together history, philosophy, spirituality, and personal experience to create something truly profound. In our conversation, Kazim and I discussed the divine in art, what the sound of poetry can embody and enact, and the fundamental oneness of human life. Then for the second segment, we talked about music.

Here are some links where you can listen to the episode:

You can also listen to the full episode and find show notes and a transcript at the episode page on the KTCO website.

You can purchase a copy of The Voice of Sheila Chandra directly from the publisher, or at your local bookstore. Kazim's new memoir, Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water, is forthcoming in March 2021 and is now available for pre-order.

#MatteredToMe - January 9, 2021

I’ve been a bit distracted and didn’t read much this week, as I imagine might be true for you as well. And that’s okay. Still, it’s Friday—or was when I started writing this letter—so here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. I often find success harder to accept than failure, so I appreciated and related to Sarah Gailey's recent newsletter about their garden.
  2. From Alexandra Petri's latest column: “it is amazing, after all, what you can do, if no one bothers to get in your way.” People, including her, have been saying this for years. I'm sad and angry that it still needs saying, but I am glad that people are still saying it.
  3. If you want something fun and light to escape into for a minute, perhaps a Scottish sea shanty might be the just the thing.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. What I'm thinking about is how decency is necessary but not sufficient, and how empathy isn't the same as a lack of accountability. I appreciate all the people I've seen saying the same.

Thank you, and take care.

Necessary But Not Sufficient

It’s been a hell of a week, hasn’t it?

It’s scary enough, of course, to watch a group of traitorous insurrectionists violently take over the seat of legislative power in your country. It’s scarier still to consider that this week may only be a prelude to what’s yet to come. What’s making me feel all the more uneasy is that at least some of our leaders still seem not to grasp the gravity of the situation or the nature of their responsibility.

Look, I’m not saying there’s been no response. Nearly 200 House Democrats and more than 30 Senate Democrats have called for the President’s immediate removal, and signs are there that impeachment will move quickly in the House next week. There will be investigations into law enforcement’s inaction during the attack, and the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms and the Capitol Police Chief have all resigned under pressure.

Nevertheless, I’m concerned that this will pass without serious consequences for most of the people responsible. Asked in a press conference whether he thought Senators Cruz and Hawley should resign, President-elect Biden said only that he thought they should be beaten the next time they run. And this was after he spent a good three minutes praising Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney and talking about how the Republican Party is going to have a come-to-Jesus moment.

A goodly number of centrist Democrats seem to be working under the fantasy that all it will take to meaningfully change the hearts and minds of Republican politicians and Trumpist voters is a show of decency from the top. Indeed, this was the fundamental message of Biden’s campaign: unity and a restoration of decency. But if the past 10 years have shown us anything, it is that reaching out in compromise to the Republicans and giving them room to build power can only result in them continuing to destroy the institutions that we depend on for our way of life.

Joe Biden should know this better than anyone. In 2008, as now, the United States voted Obama and Biden into the White House, and Democrats into control of the House and Senate. After two years of attempting to work with Republicans and offering compromise, treating their opposition as legitimate and principled, Democrats had little to show for their efforts and lost the House because of it. Four years later, after being continually stymied by both Republican obstructionism and their own fear of overreaching, Democrats lost the Senate as well.

I’m not saying that decency isn’t important in a President, or in any politician. Indeed, the past four years have shown us exactly how necessary simple decency is. But it is not sufficient. You cannot reconcile with people who are determined to continue opposing you. You cannot unify a country while also giving power and legitimacy to people who are determined to divide it. You cannot heal when your opponents haven’t even stopped attacking you. And you cannot keep yourself and your party in office without concretely demonstrating that you deserve to be there.

Later in the video clip I linked above, Biden compared Senators Cruz and Hawley to the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. The rhetorical point was apt enough, but if we are going to be making comparisons to the Nazis, we must also keep in mind the ineffectiveness of appeasement. Republicans like Cruz and Hawley—and they are far from alone either in Congress or among the public—are without remorse and are perfectly willing to continue inciting the kind of violence we saw this week. If we are truly going to restore American democracy, Biden must take care not to become the Neville Chamberlain of a second wave of American fascism.

Scattered, vol. 5

  • Last night, J asked me, “Can you believe it’s already New Year’s Eve?” and I answered, “Yes.” She smiled and rolled her eyes, “You always believe it is the day it is.” I suppose that’s more or less true, but on the other hand sometimes I get so distracted by the weirdness of existence that I can hardly believe in days in the first place.
  • After a couple of years of seeing people I like and admire talk about how much they love their Hobonichi planners, I broke down and bought one a few weeks ago. I’d been excited to start this year’s journal, but this morning as I sat down to write in it for the first time, I realized that what I actually wanted was a notebook, not a planner.
  • I started off this year thoroughly insulated with a thick layer of “wearable blanket,” fluffy to the point where my arms don’t even touch my sides when they’re at rest. I feel like there’s some kind of metaphor here but I can’t quite decide what it ought to be.
  • J and the kids and I played the cooperative board game Pandemic last night, losing the first two games almost immediately before finally winning a third game pretty easily. I can’t decide if this is on-the-nose or just a non sequitur.
  • Usually by now I’d have decided on some goals for the year but somehow it’s just not feeling terribly pressing, at least not yet. I think there’s something hopeful about setting goals or picking a word or intention for the year, and I’ll get to it. For now, I’m feeling content just to be where I am.

#MatteredToMe - Jan. 1, 2021

  1. Lyz Lenz wrote about running through 2020, finding a new stride, and settling in for a long run.
  2. Sarah McCarry's latest newsletter is about one of her shipmates and it's just a lovely bit of writing, the product of the kind of getting to know someone that comes from sharing a small space with them.
  3. I recently read Kazim Ali's 2018 poetry collection Inquisition, and quite enjoyed it. One poem that particularly struck me, "The Astronomer's Son," came toward the end. In the end notes, Ali points out that some of the star facts presented in the poem are misremembered by the speaker. For me this adds an extra layer of bittersweetness to an already emotionally complex poem.
  4. I finished reading Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series with my son recently, which made the recent Backlisted podcast episode about the series' title book particularly timely. If, like me, that series was important in your childhood, I think you'll appreciate this conversation.
  5. Finally, I recently read Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s novel Starling Days. The book has some heavy themes, dealing with depression and suicide but it is sensitively done, intimate and often tender. It has one of the best portrayals of what depression feels like that I’ve read recently, and also one of the best portrayals of the feeling of infatuation. I appreciated it.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm glad we got through last year—me, and you too. I hope something wonderful finds its way to you soon.

Thank you, and take care.

My Year in Pop Culture, 2020

(Presented in rough chronological order. * indicates rewatch. Please note, I don't actually recommend all of these.)

Movies

  • Flavors of Youth (2018)
  • Hell or High Water (2016)
  • Uncut Gems (2019)
  • To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
  • Onward (2020)
  • Trolls World Tour (2020)
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
  • Little Women (2019)
  • Tigertail (2020)
  • Howl's Moving Castle* (2004)
  • The Half of It (2020)
  • Scoob! (2020)
  • The Little Vampire 3D (2017)
  • 13th (2016)
  • Spirited Away* (2001)
  • Hamilton (2020)
  • Palm Springs (2020)
  • The Lovebirds (2020)
  • The Old Guard (2020)
  • The Truth (2019)
  • Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
  • Magic Mike (2012)
  • What We Did On Our Holiday (2014)
  • The Addams Family* (2019)
  • The Witches* (1990)
  • Over the Moon (2020)
  • My Octopus Teacher (2020)
  • Groundhog Day* (1993)
  • Blinded By the Light (2019)
  • Happiest Season (2020)
  • Rio* (2011)
  • Gremlins* (1984)
  • Gremlins 2: The New Batch* (1990)
  • The Santa Clause 2* (2002)
  • Soul (2020)
  • Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Television

  • The Witcher (S1, 2019)
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
  • Shirobako (2014)
  • The Good Place (S4, 2019)
  • Dr. Who (S12, 2020)
  • Steven Universe Future (2019)
  • Star Trek: Picard (S1, 2020)
  • My Hero Academia (S4, 2019)
  • Schitt's Creek (S6, 2020)
  • The Ancient Magus' Bride (2017)
  • Free! (S1, 2013)
  • Little Fires Everywhere (2020)
  • Free! (S2, 2014)
  • Free! (S3, 2018)
  • Normal People (2020)
  • Kim's Convenience (S4, 2020)
  • Never Have I Ever (S1, 2020)
  • Parks & Rec (S1, 2009)
  • Natsume Yuujin-cho (S1–S3, 2008–2011)
  • Haikyu!! (S1, 2014)
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender* (S1, 2005)
  • Parks & Rec (S2, 2010)
  • Haikyu!! (S2, 2015)
  • Haikyu!! (S3, 2016)
  • Parks & Rec (S3, 2011)
  • Haikyu!! To the Top! (S4.0, 2020)
  • Dr. Stone (S1, 2019)
  • Log Horizon* (S1, 2013)
  • Mob Psycho 100 (S1, 2016)
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender* (S2, 2006)
  • Mob Psycho 100 (S2, 2019)
  • Log Horizon* (S2, 2014)
  • One Punch Man* (S1, 2015)
  • One Punch Man (S2, 2019)
  • Watchmen (2019)
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun* (2014)
  • Tsurune (S1, 2018)
  • Silver Spoon* (S1, 2013)
  • Silver Spoon* (S2, 2014)
  • Chihayafuru (S1, 2011)
  • Last Tango In Halifax (S1, 2012)
  • Chihayafuru (S2, 2013)
  • Chihayafuru (S3, 2019)
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks (S1, 2020)
  • Ted Lasso (S1, 2020)
  • The Queen's Gambit (2020)
  • The Undoing (2020)
  • Haikyu!! To the Top! (S4.5, 2020)
  • Inuyasha (S1, eps. 1–24, 2000)
  • Star Trek: Discovery (S3, eps. 1-11, 2020)
  • Space Brothers (eps. 1–13, 2012)

Games

My Year in Books, 2020

(Alphabetical by author. * indicates re-read.)

Novels

Story Collections

Poetry

Graphic Novels

Nonfiction, Memoir, and Other

Read Aloud With My Kids