#MatteredToMe - July 17, 2020: Connection, Compassion, Family, and Radical Listening
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Keah Brown wrote about living unapologetically as a Black, disabled woman, and about joy as a revolutionary act.
- 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.
#MatteredToMe - June 26, 2020: Burning
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
#MatteredtoMe - June 5, 2020: A Week of Protest, Black Lives Matter
- Last week, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about the violence of American normalcy. “But also because when people fighting for freedom use tactics some would deem violent, it is holding up a mirror to a violent country. Whether or not that result is intentional or understood by those in power. So much of what is labeled as violence was learned through American machinery or American neglect.”
- Kimmy Yam wrote about Tou Thao and the history of Asian American complicity in anti-Blackness. Something we as Asian Americans need to understand and own.
- Like a lot of people, I returned to Jericho Brown's poem “Bullet Points” this week. Written four years ago, but, of course, part of the point of all of this is that police violence isn't new.
- Danez Smith's piece in the New Yorker today, “Crying, Laughing, Crying at the George Floyd Protests in Minneapolis.” “Why do we have police? Have you Googled where they come from? The precinct’s ancestor is the plantation cabin filled with overseers, between the slave quarters and the big house. When the North came down to free my people, you tell me what burned.”
- Finally, Luther Hughes's poem “Stay Safe,” which starts with such tenderness, contrasting with the worry and fear that comes later. Well, which is always there.
As always, this is just a portion of what has mattered to me recently. It's been heartening to me to see so many of my friends and family speaking up and speaking out lately, who might not have before. I hope it is a sign of good things yet to come.
Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - May 29, 2020: Comfort
So, today is Friday, and on Fridays I post a round-up of art or writing that mattered to me over the past week. Over the years, many people have told me they find my lists comforting, and today I'm thinking about what it means to offer comfort in times of unrest.
I think that a bit of comfort or solace or respite can provide us with the space we need to continue on and do what needs doing. And some of the things I share, I hope can help engender compassion for those who need it, and that that compassion can help make change.
But I also know that turning toward comfort can be a way of turning away from that which is uncomfortable, of closing our eyes and hearts to the suffering of others. It can dilute the urgency we feel to make necessary changes. It can enable complicity.
So, all of this is on my mind right now, as I'm preparing to share this week's list. I do want to celebrate and share the things that have mattered to me, and I do want to help comfort the afflicted, to help make the world a little better. But I am yet concerned about the idea that in some way I might be helping people feel comfortable with the status quo. I'm not sure what my responsibility is, ultimately.
I hope that in sharing things that made me think or feel, I am doing something useful. And when I do something harmful, I hope to have the opportunity to learn and grow and do better, and I hope that I remember to take that opportunity if it's given to me.
In any case, it is Friday, and here are some things that mattered to me recently:
- Sasha Steensen's poem "My Body, A Barometer." Especially, today, the lines "Sometimes it is ok to be afraid / & necessary."
- The images in Catherine Panebianco's series "No Memory is Ever Alone" layer past and present together in a way that feels to me very much like the way I experience memory.
- Troy Jollimore's poem "Marvelous Things without Number," which is about impermanence and trying to hold onto things that are ungraspable, but which also pays such close attention to details which are, in fact, marvelous.
- Maggie Smith's piece "Ghost Story," which is about divorce, and afterlife—or, rather, it is about life, after. I think, too, it is about the way longing and becoming can happen at once.
- Shing Yin Khor's comic "Of Mufflers and Men" makes a metaphor out of a certain kind of roadside Americana, in a way that feels wonderfully affirming.
- Finally, Scene On Radio's latest episode is about the myth of journalistic objectivity, something that is always relevant and certainly remains relevant as we watch how events in Minnesota and elsewhere are reported.
- As an addendum, this seems a very good time to revisit Scene On Radio's excellent second season, about the history of American racism and how it continues to play out today.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. If you are safe and comfortable today, I hope you will take some time to help those who are not. Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - May 22, 2020: Things Fall Away
- Sarah Gailey's recent "Mending Sauce" post was such a gentle and beautiful and kind piece of writing. (CW: mention of a pet's death)
- I re-read Alvin Park's 2016 flash fiction piece "tree rot" this week. I loved its quiet lyricism, the way that land and person reflect each other.
- Devin Kelly's writing always has this longing to it that feels so familiar to me. In "What I Want to Know of Kindness" he wrote about loss, grief, mothers, male friendship, and gentle masculinity. I thought it was beautiful. (CW: cancer)
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I think right now a lot of our boundaries are being tested. I hope that you know that it's okay to have different boundaries from the people around you. Thank you, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - May 8, 2020: Comfort, or the Lack Thereof
- I loved the paradox of Ada Limón's "The End of Poetry," how it is an example of both poetry's limitations and its necessity. The ache of it, the way it is a connection but not a touch.
- For some time now, and more and more, and especially now, social media has felt like such a frantic and overwhelming thing. Julianna Baggott's poem "The Facebook is Excited and Sad" captures that feeling so well.
- I really liked (and agreed with) Aidan Moher's piece about games based on The Lord of the Rings. It's always seemed to me such a disservice that so many adaptations fail to capture the wonder and beauty of the books.
- Finally, Noah Cho's latest food column is about kimchijigae, food scarcity, resiliency, and, I think, gratitude. I love when Noah writes about his comfort foods—I find the way he writes about it to be similarly comforting.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I often find that when I'm feeling hopeless or scared, doing things for others can make me feel better. If you're able, if you have the energy and opportunity, maybe that could help you, too.
Thanks, and take care.
#MatteredToMe - May 1, 2020: Two Poetry Collections
- Danez Smith's latest book, Homie, seemed to me both a continuation of their amazing past work and an evolution. There is fire in this collection, and sadness, but there is such joy in it, too, and so many different kinds of love—love of community, love of self, love of language. More than once, the generosity of spirit in these poems brought me to tears.
- I loved how Leah Huizar blended different kinds of history in her poetry collection Inland Empire, regional and cultural history intertwining with personal history. I love poems that make me reconsider places I know well. These ones gave me a new view of the state where I was born and the region where I now live, and for that I'm grateful.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. I've been thinking a lot lately about how letting someone help you is a gift to both of you. Maybe that's a useful thought for you, too. I hope so, anyway.
Thank you, and take care.