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New KTCO: Ross Sutherland

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with writer and podcaster Ross Sutherland. Ross’s podcast Imaginary Advice is one of my favorites in any genre. Blending poetry, essay, and audio fiction with a wonderfully experimental approach to sound design, Imaginary Advice sounds like nothing else. In our conversation, Ross and I talked about what it’s like to make a podcast without a format, how starting with form can lead to unexpected discovery, and what collaboration can open up for a project. Then in the second segment, Ross and I talked about the inherent difficulty of connecting language to bodily sensations, something that's come up in his recent (unsuccessful) attempts to learn yoga via YouTube.

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

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

If you'd like to support Ross's work, you can subscribe to his Patreon campaign.

12 Years

Dear Jason,

Today you are twelve years old. None of us expected to be celebrating your birthday in quarantine—even when all this started, I didn't think it would still be going on by the time your birthday came around—but here we are. I think that times of adversity have a way of showing us who we are, and during this time you have shown that you are a thoughtful and kind person. It hasn't been easy being stuck at home, away from school and away from friends, but you've had a good attitude about it all. I've enjoyed getting to spend more time with you, and I've enjoyed watching you spend time playing with or helping your sisters. I'm proud, too, at how hard you've worked and how perseverant you've been. During distance learning, you pushed through and spent a lot of time every day getting your work done, even when you had to struggle with some of it. And you've stuck with our running training over the past several months, finishing your first 5K in June. It's not the most comfortable thing, running while wearing a mask, but you do it, and you don't even complain. Well, you don't complain much. ;)

I hope that the difficulties of this time mean that something good is coming, and I hope that your next year brings you a lot of joy. I know that you'll do your best, because you always do. I'm glad to get to spend the time with you, and I'm looking forward to seeing you continue to grow and continue to be the wonderful person you already are.

Happy birthday!


Soundtrack: "Hope (With Woahs) (Instrumental)," by The Dimes. Licensed from Marmoset Music.

#MatteredToMe - July 17, 2020: Connection, Compassion, Family, and Radical Listening

  1. Brandon Taylor's story "When Will We Get What We Deserve?" has so many contrasting parts that yet still all fit together. Moments of surprising sublimity, shocking violence, and quiet grace. I loved it. (CW: sexual assault)
  2. In a recent episode of NPR's Code Switch podcast, Leah Donnella investigated her own family history. It's a moving piece, beautifully told, full of mystery and heartache, about the sometimes painful truth that lies beneath our family stories.
  3. Amy Sackville wrote about the scattered, rootless, vacant feeling that comes of not being able to read or write during the pandemic. It's a feeling I relate to quite a bit.
  4. I thought David Naimon's recent conversation on Between the Covers with poet and translator Philip Metres was wonderful in the way it navigates a tense issue with nuance, compassion for all, and a lot of self-reflection. I wish more conversations were like this.
  5. This excerpt from Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman's forthcoming book is about the tension that exists in even close interracial friendships. I imagine a lot of POC will find familiar things here. I did.
  6. Finally, Noah Cho wrote about the sense of community around the grill at a Korean bbq restaurant, about family and history and mourning. As always, I loved it.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Today I'm trying to focus on what (and who) is close to me, trying to find a measure of peace, and trying to remember that this, too, is life. I hope you get what you need.

Thank you, and take care.

KTCO Re-run: Richard Georges

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm revisiting my 2018 conversation with poet Richard Georges. In his second collection of poems, Giant, Richard gave us a portrait of the BVI through landscape, through its history and its present. In our conversation, Richard and I talked about his book, the aftermath of empire in the BVI, and the relationship between poetry and myth. For the second segment, Richard talked about the particular moment that the BVI faced in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Since we recorded this conversation, Richard has published a third collection, Epiphaneia, which won the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature just a couple of months ago. I highly recommend picking up a copy of one of his books, which you can order from your local independent bookstore. You can also order each directly from the publisher:

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

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

#MatteredToMe - July 3, 2020: Basic Needs

  1. Vanessa Jimenez Gabb's poem "Basic Needs" feels like the ocean to me. The repetition of the 10th and 11th lines like waves. How it builds quietly and then in the last few lines breaks open. Every time I come back to it, I end up re-reading it 5 or 6 times.
  2. Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote about class and consumption and how these inform whiteness's sense of itself, and how being forced into awareness of itself fuels the meltdowns we are seeing.
  3. Keah Brown wrote about living unapologetically as a Black, disabled woman, and about joy as a revolutionary act.
  4. Finally, Brandon Taylor's latest short story, "Even If All Fall Away, I Will Not," which is by turns melancholy and infuriating and sexy. And how Brandon creates a character whose apparent passivity is not what it seems, it's incredible.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Please be safe. Take care of yourself. Take care of each other.

Thank you.

KTCO Re-run: Alanna Airitam

For today's episode of Keep the Channel Open, I'm re-releasing my 2018 conversation with photographer Alanna Airitam. In her series The Golden Age, Alanna makes portraits of African Americans in the style of the Dutch Realism Golden Age of painting, images full of grace and beauty representing black people in an art history context, a context from which they are all too often excluded. In our conversation we talked about that series, as well as her Being Heard project, which began as a response to seeing how different marginalized women were being excluded from the mainstream activist narrative. Then for the second segment, Alanna and I had a wide-ranging conversation about the roots of social injustice in our society.

I wanted to re-share this episode because, listening back, the things we talked about are just as relevant today as they were two years ago. These conversations turned out to be especially urgent here in the San Diego arts community, when recently a local museum's treatment of Alanna and her work showed that we still have a lot of work to do on racial equity.

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

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

#MatteredToMe - June 26, 2020: Burning

  1. Early in the week, I read this 2019 study by Noura Erakat and Paul C. Gorski about how white racial justice activists elevate burnout in racial justice activists of color. This resonated with some of my own experiences in activist spaces, and the experiences of other people I've talked to.
  2. Safia Elhillo's poem "For My Friends, In Reply to a Question" has a palpable longing in it, for home, for family, for touch. But I think it's more than simply a desire, it's a grief. It's a beautiful poem.
  3. Alexander Chee wrote about the ways that this pandemic mirrors the AIDS crisis, how the AIDS activism of the 80s and 90s laid groundwork for movements today.
  4. Finally, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about his home city of Columbus, Ohio, about what it means to love a place, about the monuments of a personal landscape, and how they change and disappear, and how what endures is the work. This piece particularly resonated with me as my own home town considers changing some of its symbols and monuments.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. There are people in your life who are hurting right now, maybe including yourself. What can you do to care for or comfort them? Or yourself?

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - June 19, 2020: Build a House

  1. There is so much I love about Aracelis Girmay's 2017 poem "You Are Who I Love," but what I'm thinking about right now is the caesura in the 4th-to-last stanza. How there is space between the sentences but not separation. How there's no border and no end to this love.
  2. Jericho Brown's poem "Say Thank You Say I'm Sorry," which is, I think, about both who and what is essential. This part in particular is on my mind: "Save / My loves and not my sentences."
  3. NPR's Code Switch podcast did an episode recently about the "outside agitator," and how this trope is used to defend white supremacy both by undermining protest and by pleading white innocence.
  4. In his newsletter yesterday, Devin Kelly did a close reading of Jamaal May's poem "Macrophobia (Fear of Waiting)," and both the poem and the discussion of it were wonderful.
  5. Brandon Taylor wrote an essay that is, I think, about different manifestations of fear during this pandemic, and how that fear isolates and separates, and also how it creates a togetherness born of voyeurism and complicity.
  6. Finally, Rhiannon Giddens released her song "Build a House" today, featuring Yo-Yo Ma. It felt profound and beautiful to me to see this song performed by a Black woman and an Asian American man, making this music together.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm fortunate to have the ability to spend money today supporting Black artists and Black businesses, so that's what I'm doing. If you, like me, are non-Black, I hope you will, too.

Thank you, and take care.

New KTCO: Leah Huizar

This week on Keep the Channel Open, I'm talking with poet Leah Huizar. Leah’s collection Inland Empire juxtaposes personal history with California history, excavating different layers of colonialism and centering Mexican-American women. In our conversation, we talked about what it means to own or be of a place, the stories behind California history, and what parts of history we carry forward to the next generation. Then in the second segment, we discussed the value of creative endurance.

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

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

If you'd like to support Leah's work, you could buy a copy of her poetry collection Inland Empire.

#MatteredToMe - June 12, 2020: Black Grief, Photojournalism, and Anti-Carceral Organizing

  1. Taylor Harris's essay "Whiteness Can't Save Us" is about loving her kids, and fearing for them; about church and school and hospitals, and the heartbreak and fear and anger of the ways those places don't always care for Black people.
  2. John Edwin Mason wrote about the ways photographs and photojournalism can lie even while showing a portion of truth, how this shapes the way we see protests and Black people.
  3. Saeed Jones's essay "Whose Grief? Our Grief," about the protests, about how this moment is the product of generations of American brutality, about what Black people are allowed to say or own. "But maybe history ain’t even history; maybe it’s just another kind of grief."
  4. Organizer Mariame Kaba's zine which republished the 1977 "Open Letter to the Anti-Rape Movement" from the Santa Cruz Women Against Rape, showing the necessity of organizing that is feminist, anti-racist, and anti-carceral all at once. Showing how all of these fights are connected, how they are actually one fight. And showing how this fight is not new, and still not over.
  5. Melissa Gira Grant on the co-opting and mainstreaming of "defund the police," and how this can be seen as a defense of the status quo.
  6. Finally, Chenjerai Kumanyika's two-part conversation with abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore, getting at both the history of the carceral state and the need to push for a society that actually values and supports dignified human life.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Lately I've been oscillating between anger, despair, and cautious hope. I'm heartened by how many people newly recognize the need for change, and I hope we can keep pushing for it.

Thank you, and take care.

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