March 2017: I was much too far out

 

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From the “Chameleon” series by Shawna Gilmore, via The Jealous Curator

4 arts justice reads, 1 play, 3 books, 8 drag queens, 1 travelogue, 1 batch of jumbled thoughts from a representation-in-the-arts panel, 1 stubborn poem

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“You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders.”

— Mary Beard in the London Review of Books: a long but good read about women in power, in literature and real life.

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“Millennial artists and arts managers are starving, broke, indebted, overworked, and wholly taken advantage of by this industry. We have to work other jobs just to be able to afford to work in the theatre. There is no way ‘in.’ It’s increasingly difficult to make the work, to show work, to develop your craft, and secure the funds or pay out of pocket to fulfill the kind of call to action that was being solicited. How can we continue to encourage people to dream this dream? Would you encourage your loved ones to keep driving a car that is running on fumes? How can you eat when everyone is starving?”

— Genée Coreno, my former summer internship roommate and “Lee Miller” in my one-act play, wrote a brave and much-needed treatise for HowlRound.

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“[Women] are conditioned to ever prove ourselves, as if our value is contingent on our ability to meet the expectations of others. As if our worth is a tank forever draining that we must fill and fill. We complete tasks and in some half-buried way believe that if we don’t, we will be discredited. Sometimes, this is true. But here is a question: Do you want to be a reliable source of literary art (or whatever writing you do), or of prompt emails?”

— Melissa Febos, hitting dangerously close to home on Catapult.

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“These images are cliché and hackneyed, because there’s no specificity beyond location—just an opportune moment to display poor subjects needing divine intervention. This is precisely what photography in this moment needs not to do. It needs to be more generous and less exploitive.”

— Seph Rodney at Hyperallergic on Alex Majoli’s documentary photographs and the aestheticization of suffering.

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“Let the Right One In”
Play at the Alley Theatre (National Theatre of Scotland, directed by John Tiffany)
Film (2008, directed by Tomas Alfredson)

I’ve always been too scared to watch the film versions of this adolescent vampire love story, but figured the stage version couldn’t possibly be as frightening. I was right—only one or two jump scares. But the film was also not as scary as I had feared, although that may be because I knew what was coming.

The original story is set in Sweden, but the Scottish theatre company’s heavy accents and still-barren set had a similar affect for an American audience. The set was a climbable forest of birches and the industrial jungle gym where Oskar and Eli meet, with rolling gym lockers and trunks to transform locations (include a dramatic “swimming pool” tank). The whole thing had a very “national theatre” feel to it, with a soaring soundtrack by Olafur Arnald that becomes an additional character and John Hoggett’s choreographed exhortations of emotions in what is, in non-theatrical truth, a very stark story reflected in stark dialogue, mostly between children.

I did appreciate John Tiffany’s direction much more than in his 2013 production of “The Glass Menagerie” at the ART (read more about my feelings on that). I learned that J.K. Rowling specifically wanted him to direct “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” after seeing his “Let the Right One In”; such was the mastery in which he captured the nature of adolescent romance.

Too bad they couldn’t do the cat attack/burst into flames move on stage, though. Also, in the final train scene (totally beautiful onstage), Oskar appeared to have aged into an adult. But in the film, he’s clearly the same 12-year-old, which didn’t pack the same punch of permanent devotion. Film to stage adaptations are always interesting (page to film to stage, in this case); it’s such a clear illustration of how artists’ choices affect the final effect.

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“The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson
Memoir-ish
Graywolf Press, 2015

The style of this unconventional memoir is totally pleasing: nonlinear, self-referential, comfortably academic. And sexy. And short enough to not become a drag. This is the first time I’ve expressly thought of a book as considerate in its intellectual and personal fervor. I’d never read anything quite like it.

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“Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan
Novel
Doubleday, 2013

I read somewhere that the book (which will soon be a film) is “a cross between Jane Austen and ‘Gossip Girl,'” and I can’t really top that description. My contribution: I know I’ve described books in the past as “perfect airplane books” without it being a compliment, exactly. I thought I might be the case with “Crazy Rich Asians,” but by two thirds of the way through I was totally invested, and stayed up way too late to find out what happened. At 403 pages it should take most of a long flight to read–although its descriptions of lavish air travel may be too painful if you’re flying coach. Still, Kwan’s prose is an escape into a very specific world not often depicted in novels, walking a fine line between celebrating and condemning excess.

Oh, I remember where I read that Jane Austen/Gossip Girl comparison: I clicked on this article featuring the newly-cast (and gorgeous) male lead for the film. No regrets.

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“Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
Graphic memoir
Houghton Mifflin, 2006

I want to see the musical when it comes to Houston, so I figured I’d better read the book first. Expertly sad and lovely, like everyone has been saying since it was published. The narrative alone is compelling, but the illustrations make it transcendent. Looking forward to playing the “how will they adapt it” game when the musical comes to Houston in May—a la “Let the Right One In” this month—although given how quickly I teared up at the 2015 Tony performance of the song “Ring of Keys,” outcomes look good.

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The RuPaul’s Drag Race Hater’s Roast

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PURSE FIRST: Bob the Drag Queen, Trixie Mattel, Kim Chi, Jinkx Monsoon, Acid Betty, Darienne Lake, Phi Phi O’Hara. Not pictured: Ginger Minj (host)

In 2012, RuPaul’s Drag Race officially replaced Project Runway as my must-see reality show. Just have to note that the “Hater’s Roast” is a fabulous event featuring some of the best contestants and, dare I say it, way more fun than just watching lip-syncing performances. Highly recommend to all fans (deep cuts from the show make it not entirely newb-friendly) if the tour comes to your city.

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Me at Joshua Tree

Paul and I drove to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara for spring break—my first time in California. Unfortunately I was sick with a sort throat/cold for most of it and didn’t have the energy to plan excursions as effectively as usual (I can’t believe we didn’t go to LACMA, I blame Sudafed). But it was surreal to see the Hollywood sign, hike up to Griffith Observatory, and see some favorite comedians (we were in the audience for this edition of “Put Your Hands Together” podcast). We saw dear friends, my uncle ,and the Pacific ocean. We resisted so much merchandise at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, although I did get a butter beer.

People have told me that LA is similar to Houston in some ways, and they’re right: it’s huge and sprawling, has awful traffic, and is unreasonably hot. But the scenery is far more beautiful, the highways are wind-y (not sure if that’s a positive, just different), and it has the Pacific instead of the Gulf. And then there’s Houston’s humidity, and Texas senators… maybe it’s wisest to stop comparisons there.

 

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But, here’s a good Houston thing:

I’m not an opera fan and didn’t see the Houston Grand Opera’s (HGO) production of “Nixon in China.” But the Houston Chronicle’s theater critic Wei-Huan Chen did, and while I have characteristically and pettily pegged him as another “breathless Houston theater critic” (how dare you praise something I didn’t like that one time), he is one of the best writers in town and wrote a great critique of the HGO’s use of yellow-face in the production. (Best to read the original article before reading on.)

With that in mind, I jumped at the chance to attend “Representations and 21st Century Responsibilities in the Performing Arts” at the Asia Society on March 31. I love panels. They’re like the internet come alive, except everyone is forced to have real credentials and bear real embarrassment for boneheaded comments. While the event was sparked by Chen’s review, organizers took pains to bill it as a general discussion. But with artistic director of HGO Patrick Summers onstage, I was expecting some direct confrontation.

Of course, that didn’t really happen. The most cringe-worthy moments actually came from other panelists, from my point of view, but it was still disappointing that Summers wasn’t taken to task more handily for at least one question. I don’t mean pitchforks, but couldn’t we have one moment of consequence? Despite the explicit defining of “yellow-face” and “whitewashing” for the discussion, yellow-face didn’t come up at all until the Q&A.

Before Chen could ask his question, an elderly lady (and seeming HGO ringer) asked a question that gave Summers the opportunity to say that he never considers race while casting singers. Her mic wasn’t working properly and she was hurried off, but I heard catches of “horrible Houston Chronicle writer” and an accusation that Chen said that singers should only be cast to characters of their own race. This is a shitty and sadly typical interpretation of the argument, and I wish the panel had challenged her framing.

Granted, I’m not an arts administrator whose organization’s fate rests on the shoulders of subscribers like her. Plus, Q&As are a monstrous time-suck, and the panelists may have felt they couldn’t afford the time. Still, this oversight is in line with Chen’s comment a few moments later: that this feel-good discourse is a get-out-of-racism-free card for “nodding white people.”

The rest of Chen’s question went something like “why is it that no one was talking about this before I wrote the review,” and he was promptly shut down by moderator Sixto Wagan. (Full disclosure: Sixto and I have worked together a few times at UH). “Why is nobody talking about this,” also a noted clickbait headline tool, discounts activists and administrators who have been working on these issues for their whole careers—”probably longer than you’ve been alive,” said Sixto. “This panel and these issues are bigger than just one production.”

It was difficult to come away with a clear takeaway (expected), but from the discussion, it seems like the choice of what to produce and what is written in the first place is the root of the issue—topics far larger than the discussion at hand. Why did HGO choose to do “Nixon in China” if they weren’t going to make an effort to be culturally sensitive? Summers did say they are going to form a task force for future productions, and that they are dedicated to informed dialogue while shaping each production, so that’s something. The panelists’ range of perspectives and experiences, at least, made for an interesting evening. I’m grateful for all Houston artists, administrators, and writers who keep nodding white people uncomfortable and aware.

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Poem stuck in my head, maybe because of this illustration series:

“Not Waving But Drowning” by Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

 

 

 

February 2017: I love that

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2 art itches, 2 activism spasms, 1 scientist fight, 8 articles, 3 books, 1 thriller, 1 sweet Star Wars victory

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I wrote about three gallery shows for Aeqai, and I think the title sums it up: Trans rights, melting glaciers, evil-thwarting shields: just another Houston gallery-hop, just another January in America

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Experimental Action, the first performance art festival of its name in Houston (although similar events occurred in recent years), held a panel on the 25th that was billed as something to help people understand performance art. I’m not sure if I have trouble “understanding” performance art, but I sure don’t know how to review it. How do you review an ephemeral experience that no one can pay thousands of dollars for to keep in their homes? (I resisted actually asking the panel about the commodification of performance art, as I’m sure we crafty capitalists can find a way. Related: Shia LaBoeuf didn’t turn up, despite the hashtag.)

Professor Alison Starr gave a good retrospective of performance art starting with the futurists (weirdly, I had just re-read their proto-fascist manifesto), and six artists who had traveled to Houston from around the world to perform. Just as I was starting to wonder if anyone has ever created a performance based on a never-ending, painful audience question (they would just keep asking and asking, as the other audience members get more and more uncomfortable, and then after the question lasting at least 30 minutes, a bucket of blood drops… I’m new at this), Dallas-based artist Christian Cruz offered this phrase: “The medium is the duration.” I love that. That statement alone makes me feel prepared to write a performance art review.

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I marched to the Super Bowl. Best sign:

patriots

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A friend recommended the Citizens Climate Lobby as a good activist group to get involved with. On a whim, I traveled to Austin for their annual Texas meeting. Their whole thing is to champion a carbon fee and dividend solution, and to lobby conservative politicians to make the difference in votes. I learned a lot, everyone was super nice and it was a valuable experience, but the thought of pandering to Republican lawmakers is physically painful to me right now. I mean, when George W. Bush starts to look like a stand-up guy (I know he’s just marketing a book, but still), you know something’s wrong. Better writers than I have written great “I’m still bitter and that’s okay” pieces; I’ll figure out something else.

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I love the UH Energy Symposium series. This month was Going Nuclear: Risk, Odds and Potential. I learned a lot (although there was an unsettling dearth of talk about where nuclear waste actually goes) and discussion was pretty lively. First, an audience member stood up and shouted “WHY ARE YOU LYING TO US?” multiple times while Mark Jacobson, a scientist and academic advocating for 100% sustainable energy (and no nuclear at all) from Berkeley, gave his opening presentation. He carried on and she was quieted by a staff member.

But the real Jerry Springer moments came between Jacobson and Jessica Lovering, Director of Energy at the Breakthrough Institute. Lovering is a nuclear advocate and had a perpetual pitying head-shake going every time Jacobson spoke. Verbal exchanges brought retorts like “that’s just not true” and “I’m a very accomplished scientist, I actually studied this” from him. At one point the moderator had to say, consolingly, “It’s okay, you’re both very accomplished.”

Great snacks, too.

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Grab bag of good articles:

What To Do When a Restaurant Puts A Minimum-Wage Surcharge On Your Bill

The Enduring Wisdom—and Subversion—of Bathroom Graffiti by my awesome grad school classmate, Katie Vagnino

When A Woman Deletes A Man’s Comment Online

Rescuing Norman Rockwell’s Progressive Legacy from a Right-Wing Cartoonist

Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be a Trump-Era Priority

Blood in the Ice Cream: A Deeper Look At the Cornetto Trilogy – I rewatched “Hot Fuzz” immediately after reading this, no regrets.

5 Random Pieces of Advice for Sensitive-Ass Poets 

Harry Potter and the Lost Generation – perfect Harry Potter/Hemingway parody.

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“The Sellout” by Paul Beatty
2015, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

I love putting in-demand books on my library request list and getting surprise notifications when they’re available. “The Sellout” is discomfiting, razor-sharp and uproarious. It’s about a black man who farms watermelon and weed, ends up keeping another black man (who was one of the original “Little Rascals”) as a slave, and tries to reinstate segregation in his California community. Complicated? Yes. Read slowly to absorb the subtext and jokes. Suggested accompaniment: Beatty’s interview with Rolling Stone.

 

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“100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write” by Sarah Ruhl
2014, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

I’m glad I bought this one: micro-essays by a great playwright that cover philosophy, plays and parenting (and So Much More!). Morsels are another good medium for her.

My favorite essay was #71, “The Age of Commentary.” She describes being at the Tony Awards: “There were many breaks in the show, and I was struck by what the live audience did while the television audience was watching the commercials. You might think that such a lively teeming mass of gifted performers and producers might be laughing, gossiping, dancing in the aisles, looking over their fans at one another’s decolletage. What were these rarefied creatures doing? They were texting. And I thought, The age of experience is truly over; we are entering the age of commentary.” This is a much more Romantic way of describing our collective obsession with cell phones.

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“Get Out,” 2017
Written and directed by Jordan Peele

I can count on one hand the number of horror films I’ve seen in a theater (one was by accident—ugh, “Woman in Black”), but luckily this is more of a thriller. It’s getting rave reviews, so I will save you the spoilers and just tell you to go see it, even if you’re squeamish about the “horror” label. It manages (easily, too recognizably) to be horrifying without torture porn, shaky camerawork and excessive jump scares.

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One of the world’s great babies, Lil’ Sebastian, turned one, and was thrown the most epic Star Wars-themed birthday I have ever attended. And because I knew that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, I won a jellybean dispenser! I mean, LOOK at this cake:
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January 2017: Introverts March

 

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“Igloo Mobile” – Photo by Charles Pétillon

50,000 women, men and children, 4 good internet reads, 1 zine, 3 plays, 3 books, 3 other lead image candidates

I attended the Women’s March on Austin on January 21st, which ultimately drew more than 50,000 marchers, one of the biggest nationwide (3 million marchers worldwide, total). There ended up with more than 22,000 marchers in Houston, but I was game for an out-of-town experience. The march itself was very family-friendly and maybe a little “safe” in its spread-thin “demands,” but inspiring nonetheless. And it’s always great to hear Wendy Davis speak. To think, we could have had her as governor.

I had some time to kill afterward and ended up at a screening of “Sailor Moon R: the movie” at the Alamo Drafthouse. This decision was based on timing–plus I needed a food and sit-down opportunity–but I’d missed the Sailor Moon phase that so many young women go through, and a movie about superhero girls seemed like an appropriate bookend for the march. I was right: unabashed femme-power, friendship ruling over all, and the goal of making sure that “no one ever has to be alone” made my heart soar.

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Speaking of not being alone, I loved this article from the Ploughshares blog about Dutch poets who write poems for the dead who do not have anyone to mourn them. “The poems are short, stark, and moving speculations on identity and loss…. It addresses our sense of the tragedy of someone dying unclaimed. It attempts to reassure us that no one can leave the world unremarked.”

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More articles on my mind:

Market Rules: How We’ve All Been Reduced to Salespeople – Playwrite Ayad Aktar’s opening remarks at the American Theatre conference. “Art’s great capacity is to renew and to restore. To remind us of death. To cleanse and nourish us. To offer us a path to a clearer and more vivid sense of ourselves and each other. But art in the service of commerce cannot do any of this. Not really. Indeed, art in the service of commerce isn’t really even called art anymore. It’s called content.” Shiver.

Making Art During Fascism – a very good zine by Beth Pickens that is more approachable than it sounds. Click the link and email her for a copy–it’s not available online because parts of it will be published in an upcoming book.

Meltdown of the Phantom Snowflakes – Laurie Penny at the Baffler

Trump’s Planned Elimination of Violence Against Women Grants is Pure Cruelty – Slate

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“Matt & Ben” by Brenda Withers and Mindy Kahling
Rogue Productions at Stages Repertory Theater
I loved this play when I saw it at Central Square Theater in 2011 (click the link for more details about the zany concept), so I wasn’t going to miss it here. Rogue Productions is a new company in town, headed by our Matt and Ben: Rachel Logue and Chelsea Ryan McCurdy, respectively. Showcasing their comedic chops was a smart way to start their tenure; I’m looking forward to their next show, whatever that may be.

“Book of Mormon” by Matt Stone and Trey Parker
Broadway Across America – Hobby Center
I haven’t made an effort to see big budget shows in a while, and it took a gift card to get me to one. But, I ultimately had to know what the fuss has been about all these years. The musical has moments of genius and of course the performances were wonderful, but the humor felt a little ten-years-ago. But, what do I know — ticket sales and Tony awards speak for themselves, I guess.

“The Johns” by Mary Bonnett
Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre Company at Studio 101 through February 4
Mildred’s Umbrella was contacted specifically about producing “The Johns,” originally produced in Chicago as a part of a series by Mary Bonnett, because of their specific women’s rights-centric mission. With a panel of Houston experts and advocates preventing sex trafficking available after the show, they’ve taken care to make sure the play’s message sticks. Houston is a huge sex trafficking hub, and the timing of the production around the city hosting the Super Bowl was not coincidental.

A difficult play to watch, although unfortunately part of that is writing that is a little too on the nose, a little too clunky, particularly with the “john” characters. Still, powerful performances and a powerful message. It’s almost refreshing to hear male characters brazenly offering their views on women out loud, instead of just showing it with their actions.

I would, just once, like to see one of these pieces give sex workers something more to say than “my life is terrible and I am terrible but I’m also so sexy.” While that may be accurate for a trafficked 14-year-old (and Mary Bonnett did an incredible amount of research here), it’s still a play. I’m not asking for a happy ending, just a fuller character.

The action does pick up in the second act, and Sarah Gaston gave a standout performance as Grace, the upper-class mother whose son and husband are both unknowingly patronizing the same underage prostitute. I wish I had left with more of a sense of how trafficking happens, and the humanity of those trafficked–but the point was to show the impact it made on an upper-class family. Perhaps the other plays in Bonnett’s series address these facets of the issue. With the Trump administration already set to slash funding to violence against women initiatives, these messages are all the more poignant.

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“Lydia’s Funeral Video” by Samantha Chanse
Playscript, with illustrations and footnotes: 2015, Kaya Press

I saw Sam Chanse perform part of this one-woman show at the 2014 AWP conference in Seattle, carried around the cool oversized promotional postcard through two moves (one cross country), and finally ordered a copy of it last month. Divine providence, I guess, since abortion access is a major theme of this comedy. The premise: in the not-so-distant future, Lydia Clark-Lin discovers she is pregnant when her fetus speaks to her in a dream, giving her instructions to kill herself in 28 days and shoot a “funeral video.” In this reality, Planned Parenthood has been shut down completely, and all abortions are illegal after 28 days. Lydia’s best friend, Bernie, is an activist abortion provider who sees patients in armored tanks, such is the vitriol she faces. I wish this were less relevant, but the play itself is hilarious, heartfelt and original.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot
Non-fiction: 2010, Random House Publishing
Henrietta Lacks died in 1952 from cervical cancer, and I haven’t been able to shake one particular description from this book: that her body, when autopsied, looked as though it was full of pearls, so many were the tumors. The lead photo for this blog entry (from a series found via Colossal) reminded me of that. But the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family isn’t that her illness was particularly remarkable, savage though it was: it is because her rapidly reproducing cancer cells have proven nearly impossible to kill and have become ubiquitous in medical studies, since they are so hardy and inexpensive to reproduce. While her cells have been sold to researchers for decades, her own family wasn’t made aware of what was happening, and while their matriarch’s cells play a crucial role in medical research, they themselves can’t afford health insurance. Highly enjoyable read–I’m looking forward to see how they execute the upcoming HBO series, starring Oprah as Henrietta’s late daughter, Debra.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi
Novel: 2016, Knopf
I can see why this is one of the most lauded novels of 2016. It follows the descendants of Effia and Esi, two sisters who do not know of the other’s existence, in 18th-century Ghana. One marries a white slaver; the other becomes a slave, living in the dungeons below her sister’s quarters before being taken to America. Though we only get one chapter with each character as the story goes from generation to generation, Gyasi picks her moments perfectly.

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I was torn between lead images this month. Here are the other options:

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Illustration by Devery Dolman via Facebook and Custom Ink

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Collage by Sarah Gerard, accompanying her column, Mouthful, on Hazlitt.

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Image capture from “The Last Unicorn”. After watching Sailor Moon, I was hungry for more animation. We had this on VHS when I was a kid, but I barely remember any of it. I think we might have bought it because my dad liked the music; the America soundtrack takes aim at dads with a laser focus. I appreciated it now, can see why I didn’t go for the slow, symbolic story as a kid.

 

November 2016: I thought I’d have a different caption for this photo

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I thought the caption would be about Hillary defeating Trump and soaring into the sunset to prepare for four years of especially gross misogyny. I guess I was right on one count.

3 interviews, 1 art review, 1 Terrance Hayes, 2 novels, 1 therapeutic theater date, 7 action items, 5 righteous reads, 1 Thanksgiving road trip

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Here’s what I wrote on Facebook on November 9 as an intro to my inverview with John Pluecker: “I was aggravated that (by total coincidence) my first interview for Public Poetry came out today, of all days, when we are mourning, not self-promoting. But it’s actually pretty relevant. John Pluecker is an activist (and experimental poet, with a cool new book), and we talked about language justice and what it means to be a social justice interpreter, among other things.

Check it out and get motivated, because that’s what has to happen next. Make sure to drink a lot of water because crying will give you a headache.”

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Our focus here at the museum is to educate the entire community — not just the Jewish community — on the importance of the lessons of the Holocaust: fighting hatred, apathy, and prejudice. Taking those lessons and communicating them effectively to the public is our mission.

Kelly Zúñiga, CEO of the Holocaust Museum of Houston

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The way I see it, we’re not in business just to make money. Of course, that’s a big part of it but we want our efforts to mean so much more. Growing up, I watched my family act in ways with such big hearts towards other people that it just became a part of who I am.

Moon Jamaluddin, principal/founder of Events By Momo

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Reclaiming Material Responsibility: Blake Rayne and Analia Saban at Blaffer Art Museum

I loved one of these artists and was lukewarm on the other, so yay, I got some practice trying to write a not-glowing review. One of my favorite pieces, “Draped Marble” by Analia Saban, is pictured below.

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I had no idea that the brilliant poet Terrance Hayes is also a visual artist. Luckily I found out about a presentation he was doing at the Menil Collection at the last minute, about the relationship between drawing and writing. I had a little bit of trouble finding his work online, but this article in 1839 has some great examples.

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“We Love You Charlie Freeman”
Kaitlyn Greenidge
2016, Algonquin Books

I read most of this fantastic debut novel in a day. It’s about an African-American family who move to the Berkshires in 1990 to “adopt” a chimp named Charlie and communicate with him via sign language (in which they are all fluent). But it’s really about their family, and the deep wounds of racism throughout American history that have yet to heal. In light of the election, themes of casual (and overt) white supremacy, guilt vs. shame, and desperate stabs at happiness are especially poignant.

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“Hag-Seed”
Margaret Atwood
2106, Hogarth Shakespeare Series

Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is a silly yet beautiful work, and Atwood’s is no different, albeit touching in more immediate sense. Artistic Director Felix, our Prospero, is ousted by his theater company just as he is about to mount his “Tempest” onstage. He becomes a hermit and eventually winds up teaching Shakespeare at a prison, with inmates as performers. When he starts directing them in “The Tempest,” his own plot for revenge unfolds. Yes, it’s ridiculous, especially the words Atwood puts in the inmates’ mouths. But Shakespeare’s “Tempest” is no less ridiculous, and who expects anything else than storytelling mastery from Atwood? I hope that high schools start teaching this alongside “The Tempest.”

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Speaking of cathartic theater: I saw Horsehead Theatre Co.’s “The Judgment of Fools” on November 12, four days after the election. The actors (Fool 1, Fool 2, etc.) mingled with audience members before the show started, taking selfies and chatting about the finer oddities of their costumes. The opening recording encouraged guests to not to turn their cell phones off — “Because what if this play is fucking boring?” — and the “head fool” encouraged us to heckle the actors at any time, or to run onstage and stop a scene with the big red bullhorn perched just offstage.

The fools enacted scenarios, and we were encouraged to vocally judge them. “Shout ‘slut’ when I reach a point in my story in which you think I was acting like a slut,” said one actor. (When someone jokingly did so after two words of her story, she genuinely asked why, ready to hear his answer.) An unwitting volunteer became a contestent in a “stereotype pageant.” One audience member’s facebook page was projected onto a screen, and the audience encouraged to judge him by it.

It all sounds very vindictive and awkward, and maybe it was with certain audiences, but people were largely kind and fair (or at least, they were when they shouted out). A cast of good and good-natured improvisors helps. I asked one of the “fools” if they always got this kind of reaction from the crowd, and he said that our audience was much more vocal than those they’d had before the election. People were ready to play (and in any cases, drink). So thank you, Horsehead Theatre Co., for producing new work that’s so damn fun, and — especially at this particular time — vital.

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Action items:

I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here’s what I learned about how they listen to constituents. 

A 70-Day Web Security Plan For Artists and Activists Under Siege

“We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet

Trump Syllabus 2.0

Why some protests succeed while others fail. 

The Case for Normalizing Trump (bad headline, good article)

The “Stronger Together” facebook group (I’ll add you if you want)

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Righteous reads on the wild internet:

‘It’s unprecedented in our history’: Trump’s election inspired millions in nonprofit donations

After this election, I don’t owe anyone my silence or my unity. 

Blaming political correctness on Trump is like blaming the civil rights movement for Jim Crow. 

Trump excuses the white working class from the politics of personal responsibility. 

Please stop saying poor people did this. 

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We took an amazing four-day road trip across Texas and New Mexico over Thanksgiving break. Being from the east coast, I’d never been exposed to that kind of extreme scenery. For example, a prairie so sparse you can see an entire train plowing through it. And it’s been awhile since I could see the Milky Way at night. Even driving wasn’t all that bad. Plus, it was incredibly therapeutic to have limited internet access for a few days.

road-trip-25-for-blog

Me, in awe of nature, not missing the internet at all.

Lead image/Paul Nicklen

October 2016: The Old Divination Standby

aries

“Aries” by Eugenia Loli, from her new zodiac collection. Really kind of her to use a picture that looks just like my grandma in the 60s for my astrological sign.

1 (unsettling) art review, 3 interviews, 1 exaggerated headline, 1 Screwtape musing, 1 accidental feminist classic, 1 of many similarities between me and Ron Weasley, 1 report from Australia, 2 Halloween costumes

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Black & White, the KKK, and the Enduring Banality of Evil: “The Beginning is Near (Part 1)” by Vincent Valdez
October issue of Aeqai (9-minute read)

“The City I” by Vincent Valdez

Vincent Valdez’s first solo show in 10 years was phenomenally eerie, important and complex. The unsettling centerpiece is more than 30 feet long and six feet high, and not one, but TWO middle-aged couples skittered in and out nervously while I was at the gallery.

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America has a long and proud tradition of taking in individuals and families who are fleeing violence and persecution, including my parents. Houston has always played a significant role in resettling refugees. When a city takes in victims of tragedy, it demonstrates to the world its compassion and humanity. Houston should continue to set an example for the country and the world.

–Teresa Messer, immigration attorney. Her parents were refugees of the Vietnam War, and now she serves immigrants and refugees in her home city.

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“Quiet leadership” is something I learned to emphasize during the M.A., or the idea that you can lead by example. You don’t always have to be that extrovert leading the charge — that’s not what leadership is all of the time. Leadership is listening, assessing, finding the people and matching them to their strengths, and you can only do that by listening and assessing.

–Alyson Landry, Professional Communications instructor at Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. I wish I’d been able to take her class in high school!

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My responsibilities of my new appointment is to manage the day-to-day operations of critical access hospital that serves a community of 12,000 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in the Cass Lake Minnesota area. My goals are to collaborate with local tribes to foster a relationship of cooperation.

–Dr. Robert Brady Malone, who simultaneously earned an M.B.A. and his doctorate in medicine, and is now the CEO of Cass Lake Hospital in Minnesota. I conducted this interview before the protest at Standing Rock was widely visible — I would have liked to ask him about how it affects his constituents, if at all.

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Favorite exaggerated headline: Thousands of Wild Buffalo Appear Out of Nowhere at Standing Rock

In reality, from what I can gather on the internet, about a hundred of them were purposefully released by protesters nearby. But the appearance of a sacred animal in a time of injustice… morale is morale and it doesn’t get more poetic.

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Speaking of spirituality: this passage of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters,” in which an elder demon gives epistolary advice to his young demon-nephew about how to sway humans toward their “father below,” is indeed more appropriate than ever this election season:

screwtape

I briefly dated a guy who flippantly said that C.S. Lewis is an idiot. Key word: “briefly.” Regardless of your thoughts on Christianity, “The Screwtape Letters” is a damn classic.

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Another damn classic: “George of the Jungle,” the 1997 kids movie starring Brendan Fraser. Having a cold will do funny things to a person, and on a sick day this month I found myself renting and watching this movie in its entirety. Why, you ask? Because I read this super right-on Tumblr analysis of how it’s a femininst flick, and felt slightly less bad about how much I liked it as a kid. Does it hold up? Not necessarily — you have to be eight or nine years old to truly appreciate it. But the analysis is still right-on, and I was delirious while watching anyway.

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I’ve been rereading Harry Potter before bed, and was tickled to find that in “The Goblet of Fire,” Ron Weasley perfectly sums up how I survived a number of avant garde movements, including surrealism, in a French literature class in college. It’s not that I dislike the avant garde — I was just very, very bad at French. But, I got much higher marks in that class than in any of my other French classes using similar tactics to Weasley in the hapless wizards’ Divination class:

“You know,” said Ron, whose hair was on end because of all the times he had run his fingers through it in frustration, “I think it’s back to the old Divination standby.”
“What — make it up?”
“Yeah,” said Ron, sweeping the jumble of scrawled notes off the table, dipping his pen into some ink, and starting to write.
“Next Monday,” he said as he scribbled, “I am likely to develop a cough, owing to the unlucky conjunction of Mars and Jupiter.” He looked at Harry. “You know [Professor Trelawney] — just put in loads of misery, she’ll lap it up.”

It’s surrealism, Harry.

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Jane Howard on the state of Australia’s culture of art criticism:

Criticism works in conversation. This conversation takes many shapes: the conversation between critic and art, between critic and reader, between critic and critic. . . . But we’ve lost these conversations. . . . And the less this conversation exists, the less it is able to exist.

Here’s to keeping the conversation going, even if it’s about “George of the Jungle.”

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Happy Halloween from the bridesmaid from hell and thift-store Thor:

bridesmaid-from-hell-2016

thor-2016

Cover Image/“Aries” by Eugenia Loli