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#MatteredToMe - September 17, 2020: Three Podcasts

  1. This conversation between Jeannie Vanasco and David Naimon about Vanasco's book Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl was thought-provoking and nuanced on a difficult topic.
  2. Brandon Taylor and Garth Greenwell are two of my favorite people to hear talking about art and books and writing, and their "Queer Beatitudes" talk from this year's Tin House summer workshop was such a joy to listen to.
  3. Finally, Scene On Radio re-ran their season 1 episode "Hearing Hiroshima" last month. It's about the legacy of war, about cultural memory, about peace, about atrocities committed by and upon Japan. Felt very relevant to right now in the US.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I'm trying very hard right now to both keep perspective about my life and privileges and honor my feelings and struggles for what they are. If you're having trouble with that, too, just know you're not alone.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - September 4, 2020: And Yet You Do

  1. In his newsletter a couple of weeks ago, Jamelle Bouie wrote about the ineffectiveness of non-voting as a means of pressuring political candidates. This may be obvious to many people, but in case it isn't, I thought he laid out very well why it doesn't work.
  2. I spent some time recently catching up on podcasts from earlier in lockdown, and this episode of VS with Chris Abani was great. Such an interesting discussion of how language shapes one's understanding of space and time.
  3. Alexander Chee wrote about the Japanese occupation of Korea, and how the scars of that time are still felt, both in his family and in Korea and the Korean diaspora. For me, learning about the occupation of Korea changed a lot about how I understood Japan and Japanese-ness and Japanese American-ness. Reading this, it deepens that new understanding, but also makes me think about how our understanding of America and American-ness is changing and must change.
  4. In a recent installment of his newsletter The Reading, Yanyi wrote about acknowledging the pain of living through world change, and the need and desire for community. It was exceptionally generous, I thought.
  5. Hai-Dang Phan's poem "My Father's "Norton Introduction to Literature," Third Edition (1981)" is about language and migration and family, the power of literature and (I think) its limitations. Such a beautiful, amazing poem.
  6. Finally, Jesmyn Ward wrote about personal loss and collective grief, about how the pandemic and protests and our responses to them are both individual and shared, intimate and massive. What a gift this essay is.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. It is a lot, this feeling of being broken by the world again and again, and more and more. It is a lot, and too much, to where we feel we cannot go on. And yet you do. I see you.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - August 21, 2020: Leading from the Ground Up

Well, despite everything, it is still Friday. So, here are some things that mattered to me recently:

  1. Layli Long Soldier's poem "Obligations 2" is made to have many readings. I think the one that hits me the most deeply is reading it straight across.
  2. I was catching up on my podcast queue this week and listened to an episode of LeVar Burton Reads from back in March, reading Toni Morrison's story "Recitatif." How it utilizes reader expectations to do what it does is, I thought, quite amazing.

I also wanted to break format for a bit and talk in a bit more depth about something else that mattered to me recently, if that's alright:

As I'm sure you must know, the DNC was this week, wrapping up with Joe Biden's acceptance of the nomination last night. I hadn't really watched the convention—I've already made up my mind to what I can to support the Dems and Biden in particular, and I didn't see what watching the convention would really add for me. During and after Biden's speech, though, I started seeing people praising it, and him. NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie said on Twitter, "my initial thought was that biden was going to give a merely servicable speech but while not a piece of oratory, this was very well done. the speech of a confident, veteran politician who has been waiting his whole life to do this one thing." That may seem calm, but from Bouie it seemed like fairly high praise. One of J's friends was even more effusive, texting her to say that it was the one of best speeches she'd ever seen.

So I looked it up later and watched. For the most part it just seemed like a speech to me. It was serviceable as a campaign speech, but as I passed the halfway point it still hadn't struck me as particularly impressive or moving. But then toward the end, I did find myself getting a little emotional. It was when he was talking about Charlottesville, and the line where I got a little teary-eyed was this: "Remember the violent clash that ensued between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it?"

I didn't understand at first why I was getting emotional. But then I realized that I wasn't feeling proud or moved or motivated by Biden. I felt proud and moved and motivated by the people he was talking about. The ones who had the courage to stand against hate. That is what this moment is to me, and it is what this time will always be when I remember it in the future. It'll be the time when people of courage took a stand.

A bit later he said this, and again I found myself welling up a bit: "America's history tells us that it has been in our darkest moments that we've made our greatest progress. That we've found the light. And in this dark moment, I believe we are poised to make great progress again."

I know that some people watching this speech were comforted, even moved. And who could blame them? After four years of watching things get worse than we could have imagined, and then continue to get worse, it makes sense that many of us would look to a speech like this and see an appeal to our better angels after four years of ever more violent calls to our most base and selfish instincts. People, many of them, saw leadership and vision. But that's not what I saw.

What I saw was an acknowledgment of the leadership that has already risen all over this country. We have seen dark times. In the past four years we have seen struggle and sacrifice and even death. And because it's been so bad, it has also been the occasion for real heroism as ordinary people step up and take action, some for the first time in their lives. To me, that is what is inspiring. Not the words of this man who we must elect—who, indeed, I and many others have pledged to help elect—but rather the words and deeds of all of the people who have found their courage and taken their stands. These are the ones doing the work, the ones leading. And I am comforted and inspired by that.

If we are to prevail, not just in November but in all the days and years ahead, it will not be because of a President, not even a good one—and I do have hope that Joe Biden can be a good President. But, no, if we prevail, it will be because of the real leaders, the ones here on the ground, who have pushed and fought and struggled for every inch. I believe in them, and I believe in you.


As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I know that there is so much going on. Too much. But if you can, please consider donating to the Monterey County Relief Fund or the Food Bank for Monterey County, to help the communities affected by the River Fire, the Carmel Fire, and the Dolan Fire.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - August 14, 2020: Anime, Activism, and Contemplation

  1. I recently watched the somewhat unfortunately titled anime series Mob Psycho 100, which I think is a really interesting deconstruction of the shōnen anime genre. I really appreciated the way the show and its protagonist focus on simple decency, vulnerability, and self-knowledge over combat and the acquisition of power.
  2. The latest double episode of Ross Sutherland's podcast Imaginary Advice explores the dark side of the movie Groundhog Day, imagining what it would be like to be stuck in the same day for 10,000 years. Part 1 is an audio essay considering the movie and its background, and part 2 is a series of short stories, each a day in the life of Phil Connors. Dark at times and weird (in a good way), and excellent in the way that Imaginary Advice always is.
  3. Journalist Anand Giridharadas interviewed Noam Chomsky for his newsletter The.Ink this week, and it included some perspectives on Joe Biden and leftist activism that I hadn't previously considered, and that I found quite interesting.
  4. Carl Phillips's poem "In a Low Voice, Slowly" seems to me to consider legacy—or, if not legacy, then perhaps the measure of a life, or something else. It's difficult for me to get my arms around, but the poem is contemplative in a quiet way that I find beautiful, and in a way that suggests something profound just out of reach.
  5. A few years back, I shared Amal El-Mohtar's story "Pockets" in one of my weekly lists. It has since become one of my favorites of her stories—she, of course, being one of my favorite writers. This week, LeVar Burton read the story on his podcast, and it was such a lovely way to revisit such a lovely story.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. Things are scary in the world, and so often I see people lashing out—understandably. But everywhere I turn, I see people wanting and trying to help, too, and that helps me get through.

Thank you, and take care.

#MatteredToMe - July 31, 2020: Endings and Beginnings

  1. Nikki Wallschlaeger's poem "Real Snakes" pushes against metaphor, and yet metaphor remains so seductive in it. I've read it over and over again just today, and I'm still caught by it. Amazing.
  2. Alan Pelaez Lopez's poem "On the occasion that i die before i'm thirty" has a joyousness to it, which to me makes it all the more poignant.
  3. Also considering endings, Margaret Wack's poem "Happy Endings" is melancholy, but with a sort of bittersweet hope sprouting through it.
  4. Finally, the late Rep. John Lewis's last op-ed, written shortly before his death, is a testament to the power and beauty of ordinary people taking a stand, and a powerful call to action. I hope that we can live up to his legacy.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I don't know what the future will bring, and there is an anxiety to that. But I know that we will get there together, and I'm grateful for that.

Thank you, and take care.

#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.

#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.

#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.

#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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