Wednesday, July 27, 2016

imagine future

When I think of the term “Black Radical Imagination,” I think of that force that has kept Black folks not only alive physically, but able to dream of new and better worlds while their bodies dwelled in hell. It is the Black Radical Imagination that also gave our ancestors the fortitude to pull those better worlds out of the ether and painstakingly build them into our lived realities.

I also think about the responsibility, right, and privilege those who came before us claimed for us to do the same, to envision new just futures, and then do the hard work of bringing them into existence. We can’t build what we cannot first imagine, and so our survival is our Black Radical Imagination time traveling, bringing us the resistance of the past, bringing us the brilliance of the future. As was said in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, we are the dreamer and the dream.

I just went over to swim laps in the city pool, restored and rebuilt with donations from people in the community because the city has no money for such endeavors. It’s a kind of privilege. It’s not a private club but it does cost $4 to get in if you don’t pay for a whole summer pass. And how many people have time to go to the pool in the middle of a weekday? I did it. Aside from what I generally refer to as the disaster that is my professional life, I do have more time off in the summer than some. But that’s not what I want to say. What I want to say is that at the pool, in this small but racially and economically diverse city, white and black adults swam laps and did water aerobics. Mixed race families and white and black friends brought their white and black kids to swim in the pool together. While swimming laps, random thoughts running through my head, I remembered some moments during or after Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter hit the national media when I realized how insidious and aggressive racism still was in this country. Before that, I was not na├»ve. I knew that racism was still pervasive, insidious, discriminatory, personal, and woven into social structures in ways it seems all but impossible to tackle. But when Obama and Hilary were fighting it out in the primaries all those years ago, racism was quiet (violent and destructive but quiet, compared to now at least); it seemed people knew what they couldn’t really say out loud even if they believed hateful things. I remember thinking (and maybe reading) about how it was still so acceptable to be aggressively sexist and misogynist (Hilary haters have always been loud and awful) but that the racism was less overt. Obama’s presidency and so many events that have happened since have uncovered the reality of the racism that has always continued to exist. One might argue that if one doesn’t say terrible things out loud, maybe it’s because to some degree they know it’s wrong (wrong to think it as well as to say it out loud). But instead it has become acceptable to say and think violently hateful things against many groups of people of color. Maybe it’s good to realize this reality so that we can no longer ignore it. But one also has to ask if the violence is being perpetuated and the seeming cultural acceptability encourages more people who wouldn’t have participated otherwise? (consider people following Trump and attending rallies, for example, that they may not have otherwise). Recognizing the reality is important, and then fighting against the perpetuation is even more important. 

Before I went to the pool, I had been reading up on the news. Articles about the Democratic and Republican conventions. Articles about Black Radical Art and Imagination. Commentary and thinking about Michelle Obama, her speeches, her role over the past years. In her speech at the convention she stated how notable it is that she and her kids wake up in the White House, a place built by slaves, every day. That, at one time, was a radical kind of future only dared to be envisioned by some. It’s now a reality. We have made progress. And there’s further to go. As Naomi Klein writes toward the end of This Changes Everything, we have not finished what the end of slavery and Civil Rights started, because change has not happened beyond the social and legal realms. Our economic system, capitalism, perpetuates exploitation of the poor and people of color. It legitimizes exploitation of natural resources, social and labor resources, and devalues and destroys educational resources in order to keep people from gaining intellectual and political power. It seems clear that the global system of neoliberalism that we are now in functions via exploitation. Some wonder why we don’t make changes that we know would work to level inequalities among classes and colors of people. We have plenty of information and resources to fix public schools, educate people so they can have better jobs, make college more accessible, etc. etc. etc. It’s not a matter of knowing what would work. It’s a matter of certain structures and entities deliberately standing in the way of change that would lessen injustice and level equality. 

This morning I was thinking, as I often do during political seasons, that the two conventions symbolize this divide so clearly. The sets of values that each represent seem so clear. The democrats are interested and invested in people: jobs, education, healthcare, equal access to resources, cooperation, community, racial/economic/social/gender/ability equality issues, etc. the Republicans seem more interested in perpetuating myths about individual achievement, creating a divisive atmosphere by telling people it’s OK to discriminate, to be prejudiced against others who don’t look like you, to get mad that people of color are taking all of the resources (which is not true) or using that kind of excuse to point outward and hate/fear others. That convention and it’s philosophies says that only certain people are allowed in the clubhouse, and that if you are rich and successful you deserve it and don’t have to think at all about others, and if you’re not rich it’s OK to blame others for all of the problems in society. The Individual vs. Social divide seems more apparent than ever and is so visually and rhetorically aggressive in the two conventions: the predominantly white circus act of fear and hate that was the Republican Convention, the visual diversity that better represents the actual makeup of the country at the Democratic convention, tied with stories of fighting for justice and equality for all people not just some… schmaltzy maybe, but we’re also talking about real people who need jobs, who need access to education, who need to feel safe from violent hate pointed at them just for existing in the world. 

I am white and relatively privileged, relatively safe from fearing for my life when I drive a car or walk into a party store, but I have a responsibility not to ignore the discriminations and inequalities that are structured into many of the institutional fabrics of this country, and I am responsible to actively work toward changing those systems to the extent of my ability. MLK said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and at least some #BLM organizers believe that “when black people get free everyone gets free.” We are all victims of an oppressive system teaching some to hate and maim and others to fear and struggle. We are in an especially strange moment with Trump at the front of media attention and running for President. Is Trump a racist? It sure looks and sounds that way, especially when you see it in print in the words of Nicholas Kristof but importantly also is to recognize the relation between the personal/individual and larger structural forces perpetuating, sustaining, allowing these kinds of racist attitudes even in our contemporary world. And then I read Black Art Matters: A Roundtable On the Black Radical Imagination and remember to think more about the relationship or potential for art and political/social change… the need for art… the ability to recognize that the struggle happens across a variety of fronts and platforms… there’s no one leader, voice, no one way or solution. It’s about diversity in form as well as content. Or as Robin D.G. Kelley explains:

Embracing, acting on, and furthering radical thought is never cooptation. No one should have a copyright on a radical critique of the world and visions of how to enact that critique. What we think of as the Black Radical Imagination or the tradition has not only informed other struggles –Palestinians, Egyptians, indigenous movements, movements across Latin America and Asia, as well as “radical white folks,” but one must also acknowledge that those movements elsewhere have informed what we think of as Black radical movements and thought. I can’t go into it now, but it is hard to imagine T. Thomas Fortune, Lucy Parsons, W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, Angela Davis, Barbara Smith, etc., without Marx, Engels, Lenin, Gramsci, Trotsky, or Che Guevara, or Rimbaud, or M. N. Roy and Sen Katayama. Consider George Jackson’s identification with Palestinian poet Sameeh Al-Qaseem’s “Enemy of the Sun,” one of several poems he wrote out from a book he read in prison? A book, incidentally, published by the Black run radical Drum and Spear Press out of D.C.?  None of this is cooptation. This is called solidarity.

There’s not enough time in the day or a life to read and do and work toward change as a single individual. But one has a responsibility to do what one can do. And change will come through the accumulation of voices, practices, art, politics, pushing ideas and expectations to the limits of what seems possible and then getting real people in numbers to join in the effort. Imagination is about possibility. And it’s radical if it seeks to change oppressive histories and practices into futures that perpetuate actual social justice and the reality of cooperative diversity in communities everywhere.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

When The Status Is Not In Quo

When sense becomes something else, like a train wreck or kids on a roll or outside of context, a splatter. Guns don't kill people, people do that. Like witnesses and a second of noise, there was before; and after, there is only after. An explosion, a limitless series of interrogative statements. Publish your unruly comments here. After the fact, before the trauma repeats itself. But it doesn't repeat it resonates. Each emotional fiber reacts unexpectedly in every moment. A turn in the stomach, a twitch in the frontal lobe. Affects are outward appearances. Internal information squelches comprehension like disco pants. The repeating effects appear as affect and we all perform. A constriction in the throat, the settled newspaper on the lawn, a pain in the back of the neck piercing like needles. Fragments of detail on repeat. Skipped record. Broken volume knob. Lather. Rinse. Resonate.
from "On Repetition" by J.S. Hallman

"Ostensibly, this is an essay about the craft of creative nonfiction. But I think what I’m ultimately trying to say is that it’s dangerous to say too much too definitively about craft in the abstract. If you feel absolutely overwhelmed by a project – that’s good. If you have absolutely no idea how or where to begin – that’s good too. No matter where one is in one’s career, a writer, it seems to me, ought to feel more or less completely at sea as they begin to approach the question or the subject they hope to address. There are two kinds of repetition. There is the kind we find inside our work, the themes that burble up lava-like from our subconscious again and again, and which we cannot resist and should not, I think, criticize in others. And then there is the repetition that ought to be resisted, that which gives us a program, a strategy that can be applied to any subject. This we should criticize in others. Art should never be the result of habit, it should strive eternally for the fresh and the new even when we work in forms we did not invent. Craft, we should vigilantly remind ourselves, means to make something absolutely new where before there was nothing at all."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

pre/post script

in May one decides to write. poems, words, pieces, fragments of language. space and time. to some degree of space and time. one wants to take words. put them together. create meaning. make text. color pages. imagine worlds. let images float. envision musical language. build sentences. found paragraphs like institutions. argue ideas like energy as a shared resource. expound on examples like water clean and in surplus in the post-neo-liberal village of the future. language without limitations. minus scrutiny. to some degree uncensored. prolific. of many characters, exploding character limits, not 140 but 140k multiplied by a googolplex. post-neo-liberal taxation of our thoughts, control of our desires, harnessing of our creative potential, squelching of language as possibility. beyond corporate conservatism, discover philosophy. reintegrate the arts. allow writing and literature to reunite without a family squabble exploding to a throw down knock down other-wrestling-jargon metaphor. beyond the lashing of our ideas regulated into submission making us utter compliance replacing the word destruction with progress, progressive, liberal is not neo-liberal or is it. beyond verbal abuse for hierarchically ranking different versions of the same terror just wearing different colored ties and shoes. beyond flashing images that appear to contain or include words but where words only fail in the already-too-late-if-you-have-to-make-a-meme category of apocalyptic symptoms. beyond the castigation of imagination that led us to the annihilation of our only life source, the very planet where we lay our heads unable to form words that cohere in the face of dismissal. beyond this, in language, transcend the end raise the bar of knowledge level the field of perception expand the horizon of insight (or outsight or any sight) explode every notion of boldly going through from where we have come and into something further.

Friday, April 08, 2016

poem for April 8

a curriculum vitae
is like a pet
hermit crab

not like a dog

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

April is Poetry Month

A few days before April, I agreed to myself that I would write a poem a day as a Facebook friend had "challenged" out into the FB universe. Today is the 6th day of April and I haven't yet written a poem. Oops, failed at that. I think to myself that I haven't actually written any new poems in a long time. I have revised some old poems. I may have written some small filler poem-pieces to fit in spaces in one book project recently. But new poems? not really. I have though been doing a lot of reading. Just finished Naomi Klein's large book about how we got (we global human race) to be at this moment of peering over the edge toward environmental apocalypse (white power greed money extraction ideology etc.) and what kind of social/cultural/economic revolution is needed to avoid catastrophe (real catastrophe, not the way we throw around that word as if to ignore what it can really mean). And so to (late) start my April poem project, I offer a passage from Klein, not a poem but poetic, about  connection (circle of life stuff) in the world. And poetry is about connection (and part of the circle of life if one want to use that phrase which is a little Lion King, or whatnot). And maybe poetry can help save us from ourselves.

"If the sockeye salmon, a keystone species, were threatened, it would have a cascade effect--since they feed the killer whales and white-sided dolphins whose dorsal fins regularly pierce the water's surface in nearby bays, as well as the seals and sea lions that bark and sunbathe on the rocky outcroppings. And when the fish return to the freshwater rivers and streams to spawn, they feed the eagles, the black bears, the grizzlies, and the wolves, whose waste then provides the nutrients to the lichen that line the streams and riverbanks, as well as to the great cedars and Douglas firs that tower over the temperate rainforest. It's the salmon that connect the streams to the rivers, the river to the sea, the sea back to the forests. Endanger salmon and you endanger the entire ecosystem that depends on them, including the Heiltsuk people whose ancient culture and modern livelihood is inseparable from this intricate web of life" (339).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Pedagogy is and isn't Practice


or the relationship between what one thinks and tries and what happens in a classroom or in teaching in more general terms. I just made up this particular version of definition but I'm using it, for now. 

In the middle of this semester that is now nearly completely finished, I thought I was totally failing. Failing at teaching. In a way it was both a usual and unusual feeling. Usually there is a stretch of time, after the excitement of the beginning of the semester, when everything gets hard. Students stop doing the reading, become more quiet, slack on assignments. This happens to greater and lesser degrees depending on the makeup of the class, and which school I am teaching at (I teach at 2-3 in any given semester). At one school, this 4-weeks-into-the-semester-slump is hugely apparent every time, and now that I can see it coming, I try to plan accordingly with activities and whatnot. At the other schools, it is less apparent but still visible, and if I don't pay attention, students get distracted away. But this semester was challenging in other ways because I also considerably revised all of my syllabi just before the school year started. So in the middle of the semester, I was overwhelmed with keeping up with each class in ways I hadn't exactly done before, and also wondering if it was all totally failing. Ironically, I was getting in more student work so should have had a gauge about how students were doing. But in the middle of everything happening, it is hard to see anything clearly. After the beginning, everything felt like a disaster most of the time. This feeling though was mostly internal on my part. The classes probably went as smoothly as any other classes have gone in the past. One class that usually loses more students (they stop coming altogether, or miss a lot and then come back now and then) seemed to lose fewer than in the past. The issue was more about my own getting used to the new ways of planning and implementation that I had designed into the syllabi that I had to continuously keep up with.

But I think in the end, mostly I've actually been successful, almost to my surprise. And the other day, when I was reading through final portfolios, I came across one, at the bottom of the list of links (online portfolios) for one class, and I read it and cried. This student had been one to nearly drop out. She missed a couple of classes. She didn't turn in the first portfolio. She was a shy student with some kinds of anxiety maybe directly related to school, maybe related to social situations in general. She was from Uganda and had been in the U.S. for school once or twice before, but I didn't otherwise know much about her story. She also sat in the back of the room, and I couldn't really read her very well in terms of how she was participating or what I might be able to do or not do. Teaching is challenging  in so many ways. Students participate in all sorts of different ways in a class, whether or not they sit in front and/or talk out loud. And approaching students to talk about what they need can be tricky too depending on how they are likely to respond. I also tend to have a more hands-off approach because that is the kind of student I always was; I didn't want teachers unnecessarily in my business, though I was also a student who participated and enjoyed being involved in conversations. In any case, I like to respect students' autonomy and also make sure they know that I am available to help if they need me. One day after class, a couple of weeks after the portfolio was due and I had only received a kind of short and unclear email about her having not turned it in, I talked to her  and asked if she'd still like to turn in the portfolio, late, for a reduced grade. She excitedly responded, yes! and the next week gave me the work. After that, she may have still missed another class but overall became more involved and once or twice even participated in the class discussion. She seemed to become more comfortable in general and did a good job with the rest of the work. I was glad that I hadn't lost her and she was able to finish the semester in generally good standing. But I didn't think much more about it until I read her reflection on the semester in her portfolio, which included this:

I’ve never really had a writing process; I’ve never really been interested in writing. Reading, though was another matter. For a while when I was a child, my mother worked in a neighborhood library; I like to tell people I love reading because I grew up in a library. On a day when I have absolutely nothing else to do I can devour three good sized books, one after the other, like pints of ice cream. We lived in the Ugandan version of the countryside and all my friends lived in the capital city. So I spent many hours living inside my head with the people in my books and loving every second.

Being in this class has prompted two major epiphanies. The first one was my suddenly deciding to major in English. This was dismaying since I’ve never considered English a “real” major. One of my favorite arguments against it was pointing out that my heap of student debt had not been incurred so I could sit in a classroom reading books and talking about my feelings, which is what I thought English majors did. Sure, I loved reading. Sure, I had penned a bad poem or two in my time. And sure, every time I passed by the English department or looked at the first blank page in a notebook I felt the shiver of excitement in my stomach. But shivers are not a good enough reason to switch to a major that meant looking forward to a long, fulfilling career in food service.

The things I loved most about the class was that it was the first place in this country that a group of people sat down and talked about things that I cared about. Racism. Poverty. Marginalization. Depression. Self-hatred. Death. Loneliness. The ugly sides of life that never came up in discussion in math classes or political classes. The financial, social and maybe psychological sides of these issues would maybe enter the debate. But English 223 is the first class I can remember where we sat down and talked about the feelings behind these issues. Being a person who regularly drowns in feelings at least a hundred times a day, this was an eye opener. I didn’t realize I could major in a subject where I could talk about my feelings and think about my feelings and write them down and someone would actually listen. I didn’t know things like writing Creative Essays allowed you to do that without the fear of the reaction I’ve become used to all my life and yet still hate, “Why do you always overreact to everything?” Writing allows me to overreact to my heart’s content and yet manage to come to a calm conclusion at the end of it.

And I realized that sometimes, what I do and how I lead a class can have huge impacts on students. Part of it is me and a larger part of it is a process that a student may already be going through and the class may help to support that. Sometimes I think creative writing opens this kind of possibility more because students have a lot more freedom to write on their own terms during the semester. But I am starting to see this kind of personal reflection in other writing classes too. I have been practicing giving students more space and possibility for writing on their own terms so that they can relate and allow writing to be a space of discovery, both about what they want to express to an audience and what they want to learn about themselves. And at the end of the semester, students talk about how they have improved as writers and some of them even stop on their way out and say thank you.

I get so frustrated. I often have felt that teaching is the only thing that I actually am good at. And every semester, I am challenged by feeling like I am failing to some degree as a teacher. I apply for full-time teaching jobs and no one hiring recognizes my many years of experience as important to my credentials and so people with far less experience get hired instead. I often feel disrespected by people and institutions because I am only a contingent worker and not valued for my teaching experience or ability to continually interrogate my pedagogy in practice and always try and do better. Some people may be naturally better teachers, and have to work less hard to improve. When I read about other teaching practices or talk to other teachers, I often feel like I am not doing enough or am not doing a good enough job. But maybe that also continues to help me improve because it is something I am thinking about all of the time. And when I read students' writing, their assignments and reflections, I am often amazed. This last week of the semester I have been really amazed at what my students have done. And that's why it's hard to think about doing something different, some other kind of job, because I can see that what I do affects people and often gives them tools and resources to learn about and help themselves. Just because hiring committees don't recognize that, doesn't mean it doesn't matter. see the beginning of this pedagogy project go to:  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

something from the past present


A Flight of Petals

a response to K. Prevallet’s perturbation, my sister

Trumpets and clarinets grow in follicles from the crevices of his thought, and blaze the world vermilion within the terror of the night.

I have seen a series of pictures. The world. Various beginnings and endings. Like walking through woods and brush in the dark. Insects will find your legs but you can keep walking. Eventually light will fall on the lake there may be a path on the other side. Terror is always possible. You are terrified of your own changing landscape. Someone tells you ‘don’t go. Stay with me. I am here to help you. If you stay.’ But you cannot stay. Your move is past due. The trail has disappeared from overuse. The simple feel of grass becomes complicated. If you look up, you will know better how to start walking east, and you will compose this piece for various instruments to play simultaneously.