hello again, friends! I feel like time both crawls and flies for me lately; I have no idea what day it is; I had some bad brain today, which makes my day break up into pieces as I lose time or become confused. I also had a book club meeting that was NOT on my calendar even as I planned it before today, though I did have a good time with it and am so grateful for the folks in that group who come together to muddle through stuff together.
I really got a boost this week; I finished a paper (three years late!) and then decided I would try to hop back into doing work for my prospectus and my preliminary exams. I started reading a book I had meant to read a long time ago, and got really really excited because it’s saying things I also want to say, and is making me really interrogate my own assumptions and parts of my work I want to think about deeply. It’s a great book! And digging into other things, trying to really think about how to teach and convey certain narrative arcs to my potential future students, is exciting even if I definitely feel lost about it sometimes. And then Wednesday my brain fell apart, I think just from being tired from two days of “work,” and I’m back to really struggling to imagine a future for myself, one that I want or even one that involves any kind of work. And then I had to go back and reevaluate my do-do list and try to figure out how to accommodate myself in my own work as I move forward. How do I plan for a Wednesday that is spent mostly in bed, and a Thursday that is often still just scrambling to pick up from Wednesday’s losses?
I am still figuring that out! But I’m hopeful I can actually make it work and do what I have to keep going and figure out what works for me. But! Still read a lot this week, and finished some things! So that’s always exciting. Hopefully we can move on now to
Books I Wrote About This Week
"ai you're back in your nostalgia trap again?" well yes and no, dear reader. Did I read this book as a kid? Yes. Was it a very cozy book to return to? Yes, but in a radically different way from other books, I think. I think about the things I need right now, in our pandemic, as I try to face being sicker and the future being fairly uncertain, and I think that there are things that are worth returning to. We talk about meditation a lot now, but I feel like it was way less on the map in terms of Self Care Techniques back when I first encountered this, and definitely not in the way that Pierce writes about it here. I joked while reading this that her books are 50% learning to meditate, and 50% describing crafting processes, and I'm not wrong and that's a GOOD thing. This book made me want to get back into knitting, one of the few craft things I've ever done (and I wasn't ever very good at it!) because the book makes yarnwork sound so soothing and that's something I want right now. Or gardening or anything we see here! (Metalwork would be super fucking cool but I'm not so into the idea right now when it's been in the low 90s and upper 80s here in Minnesota--get back to me in January.)
It also made me return to this way of thinking about meditation that isn't so deeply focused around ideas of healing, but just about occupying a space. This sounds weird, but I've been told to meditate by a number of mental health professionals, and that it would be a big part of my getting better. And I think that is not uncommon, and I'm not trying to say my therapists and other providers are wrong for saying it, but I think framing it around "getting better" is a weird way to approach a practice, at least for me. In the book, Pierce manages to make meditation a kind of healing practice but also specifically one of discipline in ways that really appeal to me, even if I don't have borderline out of control magic powers I need to reign in. And that, in large part, is what makes me so excited and so delighted to return to this series, to see this act framed in a way that doesn't make it another task that, if I perform, I'm performing my attempts to get well, which is something I'm constantly struggling against.
So if you've never read this series, I strongly recommend you get it (it still seems to be pretty popular--I waited for MANY weeks to get this on ebook from the local library) and if you HAVE read this series, I strongly recommend you revisit it right now and give yourself the space to be soft and read about these kids again. It was so fun and not at all disappointing to me to return to, and I love that. I'm excited to read the second book (as soon as it comes in from the library holds!)
Y'all this book was good--fast-paced, interesting, good characters and lots of queer rep, which I think is all a lot of people want out of something like it. I like inhaled the book in two days (admittedly I did not realize it was a novella--I so rarely like read about a book before I read it, which is yknow my own fault, but if I see a book recommended for me, as this one was, I usually just put it directly into my eyes) and emerged on the other side of it very delighted, but as I sat down to write my review, I knew I had to address the question of genre.
You'll notice that I did not say a whole lot about it in my review--I tried to pass as little judgement as possible about the fact that Gailey wrote a Western and did not even mention Native people or Native land, and I also tried not to make excuses for Gailey's lack of inclusion. I assume, if I were to ask them about it (and they might have said this somewhere, like I said I read very little about a book when I read it, and this is not a professional publication so I'm not really gonna go digging,) that they felt it was the best path for them to not tread into that, to stay in their lane. And usually that is what I would recommend for non-Native people, speaking as a non-Native person myself who has tried to pay special attention to Native people speaking about questions of representation and how important self-representation is. But the problem of the genre of the Western is, of course, that anti-Native racism and settler colonialism is literally baked into the setting. You cannot escape the question of Native presence or absence in the genre, and the absence speaks just as loudly. Am I grateful there were no Native caricatures? Yes. Is the absence of any recognition of Native people or Native land a massive problem? Also yes. This can feel like a contradiction, an impossible bind for creatives who just want to play in the space, or tinker in a genre. What, Ai, am I just supposed to not engage with westerns?
I think we make those decisions for ourselves. I understand that the western is a genre that is maybe especially compelling to lesbians and other queer folks, frankly for very similar reasons as to why it's compelling to white cishet men; the tension between who a person has to be in society and what is possible when people are not looking, the homosociality, homoeroticism, and homosexuality that is possible when you are on the road with someone of the same gender, the shared queer histories of "passing women" and trans men/transmasculine people. (Okay so white cishet men are only interested in the way that Real Society divorces them from certain forms of masculinity and forces other ways, and idk what else. Violence?) All of this means the landscape of the western is one that is very appealing to non-Native queers, and you'll see it pop up in a few different places. But for me, of course, this raises the question: what about Two Spirit people? What about non-Two Spirit queer and trans indigenous people? Can we be in community with them and still orient ourselves within a genre that has their blood and the blood of their relatives caked into its foundations?
I don't know. I don't have neat answers. I think one way forward for me at least is to refuse to see space as empty; I listened recently to an episode of a podcast called All My Relations, hosted by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) and Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation)--the episode had on Valerie Segrest (Muckleshoot Indian Tribe) who is a food sovereignty expert and nutritionist, and she brought up that for people whose traditional land is the desert, that space is not devoid of food (or community!). And I think that reminder, that space that looks empty to us, that land which looks unused to a settler eye is in fact probably being better used than the methods that have come to us under racial capitalism, is often teeming with life and meaning that is not legible to us (and, for its own protection and the protection of the peoples, human and nonhuman, who live there, may never be legible to us--by which I mean non-Native settler descendants, though obviously you reader may not be!)
That's not an answer, just a way of approaching space. I don't know what Gailey should have done with their novella, just that the absence speaks volumes and that white queers especially need to interrogate our intertwined histories with indigenous people, interrogate how the queerness we experience is deeply shaped by histories of colonialism and violence, and what the costs are of claiming a certain kind of past in a certain landscape.
I'm amazed by the form of the novella; I've talked about it elsewhere, I think mostly in terms of thinking about Nnedi Okorafor's Binti series, which I struggled a little bit and yet somehow it's my touchstone for thinking about any novella, even if they aren't truly comparative. I'm just amazed that this specific novella, despite being in a series, manages to feel SO self contained and also SO rich at the same time, which is rare in what I've read. The pacing itself doesn't feel rushed by the end, as it often does in a lot of fantasy/sci-fi, because we have to get a lot of set-up to understand the world and then suddenly BAM, the climactic action. This is not just a novella thing, it's one of my major complaints about novel-length popular fantasy too, but here things just seem to fall apart in layers, like an onion. So much is done with so little, which manages to both explain it and leave room for a deeper explanation that might be forthcoming in future stories. And some of that maybe is because it trades in genre in very specific ways--I saw some reviewer (who I think ultimately just turned out to be a homophobe in disguise) highlighting a bunch of other work ("silkpunk" is apparently the genre) on which this work stands, and while that was a complaint from this person, I think it's really this work's strength--that it can rely on our previous engagements with this type of work to add its own spin and not focus on things we are already familiar with.
I'm also gonna throw in a weird rec here, which is I think if you like this book, you'll be interested in the card-based roleplaying game For the Queen, designed by Alex Roberts. They have similar themes of loving royalty while also experiencing loss related to that love. For the Queen really is more about the harsher side of loving a queen, but there is definitely a similar strain here that I think might be interesting for people! (And conversely if you have not read this but you know For the Queen, you might like this book!)
Resolution Check In
100 books: At the time of this writing I have read 78 books, gotten back up to being 12 books ahead, and while I am somewhat disappointed to not hit 80 books in the 8th month, I will be there soon! And have plenty of time obviously to hit this goal.
10 books of poetry: 2/10 BUT I’m so close to finishing another one and probably will shortly after I send this newsletter out. So! We’re getting there!
10 books of Discworld: Started another one of these, too, though we’re currently still only at 2/10. But we’ll keep going!
Bible: DONE!! War and Peace: DONE!!! We love to chug along!
Moby Dick: I would give five stars to a version of this book that edited out all the chapters where Herman Melville makes guesses about whale anatomy, and I would give 5 stars to a version of this book that was just Herman Melville making guesses about whale anatomy. Them mixed is going okay too I guess.
YOT/LBC/S&S: We had our discussion tonight about Are Prisons Obsolete? and next I think will be reading about alternatives to criminal justice and incarceration. I will keep you all posted! If you want a fun brainteaser, try to define prison and jail in opposition to one another—that one kept us occupied for a while! I am still reading Towards the Abolition of Whiteness and some other fun things you will learn about soon hopefully!
And that is everything for this week! I hope your week was good, and that you are doing whatever you need to in order to stay afloat and keep going right now. I am treading water okay, but I am also happy to find ways to help you tread or float if you need it. One frustrating thing about the pandemic is the ways in which communal care are more difficult for me right now; I like helping! So if I can help you, please let me know. Take care of yourselves, and each other! <3