august 15

hello again, friends! another week has gone by and oh what a week. And I have a much, much longer newsletter for you this week than last week! So that’s exciting. The job hunt continues apace, though in applying I’ve come to some realizations which I really like. One: I don’t want to teach.

This might seem astounding, because I entered graduate school for the very specific reason of learning to teach (oh what a misguided decision that was, given that no one teaches you how to teach.) But here's the secret: I don’t like curriculum. I don’t like learning goals. I REALLY don’t like grading (but then again, literally no one does. Except map quizzes, those are fun.) I want to help people get access to knowledge, I want to teach things but I don’t want to do it in a classroom environment where I have to answer to larger authorities or evaluate learning. So thus, I’ve focused in instead on library work—it’s varied, sometimes social, and if someone will let me do it at a school or with youth, there’s that contact where I can take their concerns seriously, and help them grow. And all of that is what I wanted from teaching in the first place! So it’s possible to do in other places and that’s exciting to me. Now if someone would just HIRE ME ALREADY (and it needs to be a job that doesn’t require an MLIS because I’m not going back to school right now for that, sorry. Maybe later! But not now.)

It’s fun to realize that even as my career ideas change and shift, I’m seeing the continuations in what I want to do, and where my values are and haven’t changed. And that’s fun! So hire me someone! Please, for the love of god!

Otherwise, things continue on as they have, though I have ramped up some crocheting; at the time of this writing I’ve completed a blanket (a big undertaking and my first real project,) four hats in various colors and styles, and two mittens! I’ve started on a new project today and I’m already pretty excited about it. And, of course, I’ve read and written this week, and that is also exciting. So let’s move to

Books I Wrote About This Week

Dispatch: Poems, by Cameron Awkward-Rich

I’ll be honest: I don’t remember a whole lot of this collection which, given that I read it almost a month ago (!! oops!) makes a lot of sense. I did write down a couple lines out of this book, which I enjoy doing, so I will I guess instead talk about that. (Though I will say: I love Awkward-Rich’s essay “Trans, Feminism: Or, Reading Like a Depressed Transsexual” and I think everyone should read it, so it’s not just me like being dismissive, I love his writing, I’m just. I forgot! It’s been a month!)

Inspired by writer Peyton Thomas (whose debut novel, Both Sides Now, is out in a few weeks!) I started just writing down sentences from books that I enjoyed in 2019, around the same time I started this newsletter! I refer to them as “field notes” (also taken directly from Thomas,) and I have less than you might think, but it is fun to copy them out by hand and keep them. Which maybe explains a lot about who I am, doing things that feel good but have no real “use” in my life and uh create more items for me to carry around with my life. But it feels good to write them down with my hands and also sometimes is useful when I want to look up a quotation I remember but don’t have a book on hand! So I wrote some lines from poems down in my field notes book, and that’s what I remember about this book in particular—oops.

Darkly: Blackness and America’s Gothic Soul, by Leila Taylor

Are we ready for me to have a Very Specific Nitpicky Critique of this book? Here it is: if you’re going to write about haunting (not necessarily literal haunting, but the kind of haunting that is conceptual, especially when thinking about ghosts and what haunts us historically and presently,) you need to read beyond Avery Gordon’s seminal work Ghostly Matters and I would strongly recommend you read “A Glossary of Haunting” by Eve Tuck and C. Ree. Now, am I biased because I read the latter first and then the former, and so my introduction to haunting was through that piece? Yes, in part, but I think what Tuck and Ree do so brilliantly that Gordon doesn’t seem interested in is paint haunting as something that cannot be put to rest, cannot be resolved through “justice” at least not justice as we understand it—not a settler justice, for example. Haunting resists settling in Tuck and Ree’s perspective, and I find that far more compelling for thinking especially about how a white supremacist settler state experiences haunting, and the moves to settler innocence contained in the storytelling where hauntings are resolved, where ghosts are put to rest. (Remember my complaints about Tiya Miles’s book about Black ghosts and hauntings? It showed up again here!)

I just think we have to take seriously the idea that the narratives that we tell about putting ghosts to bed are too easy and tell us a lot about ourselves (especially white narratives.) There are movements here to resolution, or brushing against it, though I think Taylor’s desires for the memorial of the African American Burial Ground National Moment to include the constant and consistent reminder of the dead speaks to this lingering form of haunting. How do we live with the ghosts that have made this nation possible? Hauntings are also revenge-based; revenge extracted from where justice falls short, where justice refuses to go. And isn’t that what makes it scary in the end?

Really I think I wanted this book to do more than it did; to seriously ask questions about the uneasiness of the Gothic and ultimately I think this book is more about performance than an interrogation, which is also very cool. I appreciated learning about, for example, the story behind “I Put a Spell On You,” and also about Black artists working within the Gothic. But I want us to take the problem of ghosts seriously! But that’s not what this book is about, exactly, and I guess I have to live with that.

(Also, brief note because this book has a flippant aside that made me go “oh do you not know?”: the term “people of color” was not created in opposition to the phrase “colored people.” It’s not trying to like make it more PC; it’s a term of solidarity that emerged first as “women of color” during the 1977 National Women’s Conference to include non-Black women in a platform. You can find more on that here. Yes, this means that if you’re only talk about Black people, you shouldn’t say “people of color;” specificity is good feminist practice. But its history is not one of incorporation, it’s one of solidarity.)

Rust Belt Femme, by Raechel Anne Jolie

This book addresses directly a Problem we have in discussing queer cultures, which is that we don’t like to talk about class very often. Especially when we think and talk about categories of gendered sexuality (like butch and fem(me),) we so rarely identify that these are categories that appear with a very specific classed history, which leads to terms transforming to a point where they are virtually meaningless (“women and femmes” being a phrase that doesn’t convey… anything lol.)

But this book! This book picks up where writing on femme identity and presentation started (obviously it owes a lot to the work on femme by Joan Nestle,) and describes it as being so heavily rooted in working class femininity specifically that it’s like a breath of fresh air. Chef kiss! It’s a beautiful thing to point to and see how grounded it is, and how class works specifically in it, because I think so often class gets erased in our drawing out of queer cultures. It’s something I think a lot about, as a person who identifies heavily with working class butch culture but is not working class myself. How do I balance that divide? How do I grapple with my class and my gender and pay attention to how I talk about and discuss queer cultures that arose from contexts I am not a part of? I would have liked to see her write a little more about what it means to present a femme identity as a person who is now in academia—what does that mean for her, and how does that impact what she’s able to do? (How does academia give her the freedom to do so?)

It’s also a nice love letter to rust belt communities, and as a person for whom “home” is intimately connected to a rust belt aesthetic, and who has a little bit of experience living around Cleveland (though I did not spend a LOT of time in working class communities in the area, given that I was at college prep boarding school,) I did visit some of the neighborhoods she describes, and it was nice to have that sense of familiarity as I read. A really lovely book overall, and I appreciated reading it a lot.

At the Bottom of the River, by Jamaica Kincaid

Oof folks it’s been a long time since I finished this so the things I have to say about it are from about 8 finished books ago (but we’re catching up on reviews!) but I was struck while I was reading it how much care went into describing landscape, environment, which gave me something to chew on for my own writing.

I cut my teeth writing fanfiction—I started when I was ten years old, and I’ve done it on and off for the last decade, depending on when the mood strikes and what stories I’m interested in telling. I’m pro-fanfic as writing, as I think in its best forms it can really help with some very particular writing skills; I attribute a strong writing voice in my fiction to my many years trying to duplicate voices that originated in someone else’s mind, and as we might explore in a later book, it gives you a deep sense of what constitutes a believable connection between characters, and how to tell that story in a compelling fashion. But something it has not helped me develop is a sense of space—I don’t know that there are really that many fics I’ve even read that truly explore and describe environment and landscape, in part because often you’re drawing on environments that are familiar to the reader. If I’m writing a fic about the Lars farm on Tatooine for a Star Wars fic, you’ve probably seen it on the screen, and it can easily become a thing where you get bogged down in the details of what has been established and what hasn’t, so I kind of just handwave the location and hope for the best.

But this stories in this book really brought home that describing environment doesn’t have to be overlooked and can really give you a lot to work with there. It can, in the best of writing, be critical for developing a scene’s mood and tone, and also just like give you a sense of WHERE your characters are in space, which is something I am uh pretty bad at. So it was a good exercise, even if I don’t know that I ~fully appreciated~ the stories As Art (we’re working on this impulse!) from a craft perspective, as someone who wants to tell stories, it was super useful and interesting!

The Reading Situation

  • 100 books: at the time of this writing, I have finished 75 out of 100 books—or 74. I learned this week that goodreads, the site I use normally to track these books, seems to have counted one of my reads twice, but I’m not sure how to fix it so I guess. it’s 74. alas.

  • Author identity challenge: still sitting at 11/18, or 61%, but I know that’s gonna increase a little bit soon, so that’s exciting! We love that for me.

  • Currently reading: I’m about halfway through ¡Hola Papi!, which is SO good; I’m close to being done with The Age Taboo; just under halfway through A Queer History of the United States for Young People; started in on Burn It Down!; and inching through Why You Should Be a Socialist, so we’re moving along.

HMU

And that’s it for this week! Thanks so much for reading and yknow generally being on this life journey with me through these times. I hope this week treats you well! If you want to see me just babbling endlessly about Star Wars and the fact that I keep watching Disney’s The Sword in the Stone over and over again, follow me on twitter @fadesintointent; if you want to see my crochet projects, I just posted about it (!!) on instagram, @sonofahurricane. Otherwise, have a great time, stay cool if you’re in a summer place, and take care of yourselves and each other. <3