Friday, January 28, 2011

Semi-Annual Blog Post!

I should really update this thing more, right?

Well, this is something I wrote a little bit ago on my livejournal, but didn't think to post here. A friend of mine suggested I tighten it up/alter it slightly and submit it somewhere, but that would require tightening it up/altering it and thinking of someplace to submit it. So instead, I'll just post it here, since I'm the editor-in-chief of this bitch. :D

Surprise Social Media Ramble

If anything, one of the things I want from my life is to be less engaged with social media, not more.

I don't know how to talk about what's going on in my life anymore - to paraphrase my friend Cera, my attitudes toward sharing the details of my life have changed dramatically in the past few years, and while the world barrels toward living more publicly, I find myself creeping inward and clinging to my privacy, whatever that even means anymore.

They tell me Google watches me even when I sleep.

But rather than get into some paranoid dystopian rant in which I start drawing parallels to the marvels of modern technology to vague and half-remembered bits of 1984 (not because I don't think it's true or valid, but because I'm certain it's been done many times before, and better, and, as I said, I don't remember enough details for it to be any good right now), I suppose I'll just lament not the loss of privacy on the internet, but rather the loss of intimacy.

It used to be intimate. Do you remember?

I haven't looked back at my old livejournal entries in a long time, but I do remember when I wrote nearly every day. I remember writing paragraphs upon paragraphs about my feelings, or the events of my life, or just random thoughts on what was. It was messy and it was self-indulgent, but I certainly felt the sense that there was a tiny group of people with whom I was sharing something special; we saw parts of each other that few people in our "real" lives got to see, and for some reason, despite the illusion those circumstances allowed, it felt safer and a lot more honest in that space, on the internet in general, than it does now.

I remember when the internet was just a bunch of socially maladjusted freaks, ugly people, weird people, creepy people. Nerds, geeks, and weirdos, if you will. I think it was considered more sinister back then - we were all more careful with our personal information back then: our real names, where we lived, even what we did for a living or where we went to school.

And now there's foursquare.

It's hard to believe things have changed so much in just fifteen years, but I guess that's like, 95 years in Internet time. Or something.

Even so, I still miss that connection, that sense of community and being able to share things safely. I miss my rambling livejournal entries and those of my friends. I miss the anonymity of the internet, and the sense that it was the one place where the people on the margins could live peacefully and undetected. Now my mom is on facebook, and the internet is a place where everybody knows your name - and that's in no way comforting to me. In fact, it's a little sad.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Authors and Influences Meme that Turned into a Race and Literature Rant

The Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who have influenced you and will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes, and they don't have to be listed in order of relevance to you...

1. Roald Dahl

2. Edith Hamilton

3. Joseph Campbell

4. Philip Pullman

5. Cristina Garcia

6. Saul Williams

7. Gwendolyn Brooks

8. Kevin Young

9. Frank O'Hara

10. Amiri Baraka

11. Pablo Neruda

12. William Shakespeare*

13. Tennessee Williams

14. Neil Gaiman*

15. Howard Zinn

This list really got me thinking about how few Spanish and Latino writers are on my list, and how angry that makes me. LOLOL. Despite the fact that I'm in a graduate program for writing and literature, I haven't had much opportunity to read for pleasure since high school (this being due largely to my outrageously and deliciously misspent youth and taking twelve years to complete my BA in English). Consequently, I've depended largely on my college and grad courses to inform my reading choices. And I'm sure there are those out there who read voraciously all year round, who can't wait to consume the next page all the time, and I have to admire that kind of enthusiasm. But as far as I'm concerned, the last thing I've wanted to do on my breaks has been to read "literature".

So what makes me angry is this: the fact that in an English major at college that loves to boast its number-14-or-17-English-program-in-the-country (number four in queer lit and number 10 in African American lit, last I checked, which was, I'll grant you, probably three or four years ago) and in two and a half years in a studio/research MFA program (basically meaning we have to take at least three graduate-level literature courses as part of our degree requirements) with a decent enough reputation, I could probably count on one hand the number of times we've studied Latino or Spanish authors. Even in the single English department class I was able to find that would even go near Latino authors (Caribbean Women Writers) only included a few Latina writers, all of whom wrote in English.

And there was the rub for my school. The Department of English, I found out from a professor of mine, had had a huge discussion about including non-American and non-English authors to be taught in the curriculum. It was apparently a major point of controversy. Their conclusion was that they would only include Anglophone literature - meaning literature written in English, in countries where English was either the main/one of the main languages spoken. OK, cool. Now we have post-colonial lit available from South Asia, some parts of Africa, and the Pacific Rim. However, the department would not allow translated works to be included. Meaning no Latin America or Spain, no French-speaking African countries, no Middle East, and sorry, East/Southeast Asia!

So OK, this is the point in the story where people who'd make the argument about language would often come in. "But the name of the department is 'English,' not 'Literature.' It'd be great to be all-inclusive, but the canon of the English language is vast enough without bringing in all these other literatures, which really don't have anything to do with the depth that we're trying to get to with English." What's problematic about this argument is that the translated works of authors from around the world have been influencing English writers since pretty much the beginning of English writing. (Also, plz to see the ancient Romans - if they hadn't included the works of other countries and languages in their studies, they'd barely have had a culture at all.) This has probably never been more true than in the 20th and 21st centuries. I'm sure there are authors who haven't been influenced by Borges, or Lorca, or Márquez, or Neruda in the "English" canon, but to pretend these authors don't really need to be represented in a serious English program is really short-sighted and honestly, kind of latently racist.

In my undergrad, at least, African-American literature was covered. To some extent, my grad program has done some work to that end as well. However (and this is where my "list" comes in), the dichotomy of mainstream American culture has bled its way into my, at least, literary educational experience: the vast majority of conversation is about white people; when race needs to be represented it's by black people; some vague and indistinct hems, haws, and nods are periodically given to the slew of other cultures and ethnicities that go unrepresented and unlearned about. I love African-American lit, I love Af-Am studies, and I don't regret a minute spent learning about either subject. However, there is something wrong with the fact that I know more not only about the literature of white American culture, but also black American culture, than the literature of my own cultures.

(I will note here that poetry classes have always been better about this, in my experience, than fiction classes. Poetry professors will usually at least throw you a Rumi bone and talk about a ghazal once in a while, and there's no way to study 20th century poetry without representing minorities - but again, not usually translated works. Excepted from this are my POCs (professors of color) and the amazing and wonderful and brilliant contemporary poetry professor I had in undergrad. Their curricula were diverse, rich, and challenging.)

But in my case, at least, it can be said that much of the onus of my ignorance lies with me. After all, I could have been reading Latino and/or North African authors on my own time, or taken more Latino/Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caribbean studies classes (which I did, twice) or Middle Eastern studies classes (even though Middle East is an Orientalist/ethnocentric term and largely inaccurate regarding the geographical location of my ethnic origins). But again, I found it really difficult to want to read on my own time when I spent so much damn time reading the rest of the time, never mind working, other classes, and wanting to have a life that existed outside the realm of books and papers and desks. And honestly, I didn't want a degree in Latino or Middle Eastern studies. At the time, I considered them niche fields that would limit my opportunities and preparedness for graduate programs in writing or literature.

In fact, I was right. I already feel ignorant enough in my classes half the time because my focus in undergrad was very heavily on 20th century and post-colonial literature; if I'd majored in Latino studies, I don't know if I would have gotten into the program I did, but I'm certain I would have had a much harder time. I wanted an English major with a history minor, and I'm not sorry I got them, but I am annoyed at the other gaps that have been left in my education.

But then there's the language issue. Casting aside all of these arguments about culture and richness and diversity and the rest, the fact remains that the literatures of these other areas of the world are not written in English, and, after all, the major is in English.

You know, except for Kafka, Nabokov, Yeats, Camus, the Bible - the list of works taught in that English department that have been translated into English from the languages of other countries that happen to be populated by white people goes on and on.

But I guess they're canon, so it's different, right?

It's even more offensive because the exclusion of Latin American literature, especially, from literary "canon" in the United States is, to me, another subtle way in which the US puts itself above Latin America. I think in a lot of ways, America treats Latin American nations like service colonies: they're there to provide resources, maybe occasionally some entertainment (often at their own expense), but never taken truly seriously on an intellectual, cultural, or artistic level. The fact that so many people in academia take this narrow view contributes hugely to the fact that Americans at large are so ignorant of Latino culture and art, because there is definitely a trickle-down effect as far as intellectual respect is concerned, and if the universities snub Latin American achievements in culture and the arts (you know, except for during National We Love Hispanics month, which I don't think is really even a month, but is like, half of October and half of November - I have no idea, I'm in on the lam in Cambridge, Latinos are only allowed in East Boston and part of Jamaica Plain up here), how is anybody in mainstream America supposed to be aware of the value of the contributions of Latinos to the American cultural landscape?

Something really stinks here. I know it's easy to throw around the term "racism" and sometimes, I get a twinge of the sense that I'm just being "angry race girl" - but this isn't really one of them. This isn't only detrimental to me - because I was raised in two other cultures, I at least know enough to recognize the omission of these literatures from my academic studies. The real problem here is for people who've never had any substantial exposure to people of other ethnicities, or their art or culture, who will spend their lives not only less culturally aware and sensitive, but whose lives I truly believe will be a little dimmer without reading some of these amazing works.

Kinda fucked.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Facebook, Race, Class

So I've been watching a lot of Jay Smooth's old video blogs over at, and he talks a lot about "the little hater": that counterproductive little (or big) voice in the creative person's head who undermines every creative endeavor, who tells you you're not good enough, that it's already been done, that enumerates all the eight million reasons you shouldn't bother sitting down and doing the work. It's been entertaining, but I've still not been doing the work.

I can't say that this necessarily is doing the work, either; my own little hater is yammering as we speak, telling me that I shouldn't write this, that I ought to submit it to a real magazine to see if I can't get it published as a real column so that I can in turn be a real writer.

But I have to undermine my little hater by saying a) I'm a real writer even if I never get a single word I've written published for the rest of my life; b) not everything I write necessarily has to be published in a magazine, real or otherwise; c) it's better for me to have something written and (kind of) finished in my blog than not to write anything and have nothing anywhere.

That said, let's talk about this gawker article.

It talks about "white flight" from MySpace - claiming that white people were leaving MySpace in droves and moving over to facebook because MySpace was "too ghetto" - had too many blacks and Latinos on it.

You know, I was not aware of that.

I never really "left" MySpace, it's true - so maybe I'm reinforcing the stereotype that Latinos love the MySpace. But the reality of the situation is that I've just been too lazy to delete the account. Every time I've tried to, it's seemed like an involved process, like getting the last of my stuff from an ex I'm still friendly with. Like, oh, all those old photo albums and notebooks (blog posts) are still over there, do I REALLY want to have to cart them all over to my new place/put them in storage? Meh! You can keep holding that for me. Thanks, MySpace.

Also, I didn't make a "move" - there was a long period of overlap between my "mostly MySpace" usage and my "mostly facebook" usage (which has now become "some facebook, some twitter" usage).

But part of the reason I ultimately abandoned MySpace was because there were so many damn bells and whistles - and this is the reason that most of the people I know abandoned it as well. Too many ads, too many noises, "too much blinking shit," as a friend of mine used to say. Page customization held a lot of appeal for me and presumably a lot of other MySpace users at one point, but it got kind of old after a while. And once you could compare it to facebook's streamlined, uniform interface, much higher rate of speed, more nuanced privacy controls, and much less obtrusive ads, it just seemed like a natural progression.

It's a fact that many blacks and Latinos were late on the facebook boat, and that this can undoubtedly be attributed to the fact that facebook was restricted to college students for a long time. It's unfortunate but true that blacks and Latinos are still underrepresented in higher education in most parts of the country, and so were on facebook as well. However, I think white people leaving MySpace in favor of facebook had less to do with, as the author of the Gawker article proposes, perceptions of MySpace as a "digital ghetto" and far more to do with the fact that for one, many or most of their friends were moving to facebook, and two, facebook is a better product for many people's social networking needs.

I understand that the author of the Gawker article was trying to bring to light some kind of underhanded, or at least largely unaddressed, sort of racism, but in the end, the article just sounded like a big, racist mess itself. I'm not disputing the numbers, but the implication that blacks and Latinos created a ghetto element on MySpace that white people wanted to escape is seriously problematic. Further, I really don't think it's accurate. There are plenty of affluent, educated blacks and Latinos on facebook and off (and what about Twitter, the great class equalizer?). Maybe there are some white people who moved over to facebook because MySpace was "too ghetto," - in fact, there probably are. But I think the majority of people who made that move did so for the same reason most people seem to do anything - because all their friends were doing it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

So, I haven't updated this thing since April, apparently - though if you count my summer travel blog, it hasn't been quite that long after all, so I will. :grin:

It's been a full couple of months, including a lot of work, changes, perspective, and a little bit of self-discovery, all of which I'm glad of. There was a while after I returned from Spain and when the summer ended that something like a depression set in, and I couldn't shake it for a while. Traveling abroad - especially for a month, which is a pretty long time for most Americans, and certainly for me - was an amazing experience, but was this sort of beautiful fantasy life in some ways. My experiences in Spain were very real, worthwhile, and enriching, but obviously, I didn't have to worry about obligations of any kind, the state of my life, the direction I'm taking it, putting my nose to the grindstone, continuing to practice the complex and dangerous alchemy of turning my passion into my work, etc.

I essentially got to look at beautiful people, places, and things for four weeks and have an outrageous amount of time to myself - some of my favorite things in the world.

Even when I returned to Boston, I didn't really return to Boston. I went to my parents' in the Catskills almost immediately after I returned - then I went to Jersey. I did a lot of traveling over August, still, which culminated in a two-week visit from a dear friend I hadn't seen in far too long, and a trip to Georgia to see Depeche Mode in concert - all of which were fantastic and fun experiences.

But also sort of postponed the inevitable.

"Summers off" are a privilege. Though anyone who's ever met anyone from Europe will say that we as Americans live practically as slaves because we only get two weeks' paid vacation a year on average (teachers notwithstanding), having any time off at all is a privilege, when you think about it. The system we've developed for work is inorganic, like so many other things. Now, that's a dirty pinko commie tree-hugging hippie sort of statement - and I won't apologize for that. Stepping out of "real life" for a month - for two weeks, for five days - can be a method of escape; ends up being the only way a lot of people make it through a year of working somewhere they don't like doing something they care nothing about.

I'm fortunate enough not to be in this situation - I have a sweet, sweet gig right now, and it cannot be said enough how grateful I am for it. But at the same time, life is life, and the taste of perfection will leave even the most glorious existence seeming flawed.

Beside that, I had to get the hell back to work. And move (AUGH I had to MOVE! Again! LOLOL). And deal with what the hell I was doing.

So I did. And what's good about New England is that autumn is the best time of year here, and I'm extremely susceptible to the charms of the "transition seasons." I went apple picking, which was enormously lovely and fun. I reconnected with friends. I've been enjoying living in my new apartment. I made some commitments to improving myself and my life that I've been keeping (much to my surprise sometimes, to be honest), and I've narrowed my focus significantly to git 'er done.

These things all helped in readjusting to my life - as well as shifting my expectations of it back to reasonable and appreciative ones. LOLOL. Yes, it would be great if I could lie on the beach and/or look at beautiful art and architecture all day, but then again, you can't refine a thing without some grit. And I like my grit, such as it is. It's far less than I've ever dealt with before, that's for sure.

Anyway, with Thanksgiving just over and two weeks left in the semester (sweet jesus, really? only two weeks?), I have gratitude in mind. I was talking to a dear friend yesterday - wah wahing about my vagabond lifestyle, and how yeah, it's nice that I'm in grad school, and that I've devoted myself to pursuing my passions, and that I can go wherever I want and do whatever I want, but wah wah, I want whatever I don't have because I don't have it right now. LOLOL.

She was very insightful and understanding and offered great perspective that was gracious and honest, and it just put me in a place to remind me that I'm seriously ridiculously lucky. My life is goddamn amazing. And all the things I want will come with time, patience, and perseverance.

Now this just sounds like something you'd find in a fortune cookie. LOLOL.

Monday, March 9, 2009

On the Slow Emergence of Springtime, Optimism, and Boston Weather.

And so this weekend, it was gorgeous.

Fifty some-odd degrees Saturday, if slightly overcast; a great day to walk around downtown and the waterfront, go to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see the Shepard Fairey exhibit, and do a little unintended puddle-jumping.

Sunday was even better: beautiful, sunny, pushing sixty if not quite making it; another great walking day. If any Bostonians weren’t outside yesterday, I weep for them. It was such sweet relief from the colorless and frigid last few months, and just a hint (one hopes) of things to come in a few weeks. It’s easy to forget Boston’s charm in the winter, when you’re holed up in your apartment, or at school, or at work, looking at the barren drear outside and wondering why the hell you ever came to this grey, bleak place.

(And this is from somebody who lived her entire life up to mid-August of last year in New Jersey.)

But yesterday, it was lovely. A friend and I walked all over, not quite knowing our way around the Mass Ave/Symphony/Pru/Christian Science/Midtown/Hynes Convention Center area as well as we’d thought, but having a really nice look at it in the process of looking for breakfast and Best Buy. With those missions accomplished, I went to meet another friend back at my place in Jamaica Plain, and from there, we had a walk around Jamaica Pond – which is really lovely, even with the grass still yellow from the winter and the pond mostly frozen over. The sun was bright, people were out – there were babies and dogs everywhere, which is always lovely when you’re not the one who has to deal with the poo. I don’t think I’ve spent that much time outside of my house since winter hit, and I think a lot of people could say the same. I think we all needed it – it was good to see Boston stretching its legs. All in all, a fantastic weather weekend.

But of course, now it’s Monday, and we’re back to snow.

I don’t mind it so much, though. Granted, I can’t say there wasn’t a groan in my heart when I walked into my living room and saw that winter grey-and-white again. But the day was kind of a relief; I can keep my one blue-skied Sunday in my pocket for now, be grateful to have had it (which I am), and recognize that while winter hasn’t given up yet, spring is definitely starting to sneak in.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Miley Cyrus Has a Memoir.

It's true.

Nothing, but nothing, should have surprised me after Joe the Plumber got a book deal. And certainly, Ms. Cyrus' book will generate the most 'tween book sales since the release of the last turd novel in the Twilight saga.

But honestly - honestly - can this be anything but a sign of the end times for literature in America? I tend to lean toward populism in literature; snobbery doesn't help people to get reading.

But what the fuck?! Nevermind this girl's complete irrelevance to anything of any meaning or value - but she's sixteen fucking years old.

For fuck's sake!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Month in Review and AWP in Brief

Well, it's been a while - there's no escaping that; there've been so many things I've wanted to post about, but one of the traps of blogging that I fear falling into is writing on topics that everybody's already covered ad nauseum. There've been quite a few over the past almost-month since I've written here, but I feel remiss in leaving them unaddressed, so here goes:

That Octuplet Thing: Well, damn. I mean, I think we can all acknowledge that the bitch is crazy, and has more serious codependency issues than a nationwide Alanon convention; I also understand the outrage and the judgment, for more reasons than really need to be listed here - but death threats to her publicist? Damn.
That Heroic Captain in the Plane Crash Sully Thing: This was awesome, don't get me wrong - but still. I smell a slow news cycle. Or rather, when was that pesky Gaza thing going on again?
That Grammys Thing: Usually, I ignore these entirely. But this year, MIA was performing, which led me to seek out her performance on the intarwebs, which led me to exposure to a bunch of insane shit that I just hadn't expected. The Jonas Brothers with Stevie Wonder? Good God. I mean, honestly, Stevie can do whatever the hell he wants - he's Stevie. But those little turdlings were terrible, as expected. Sweet jebus. Also, I've always known MIA was batshit insane, which is one of the reasons why I love her - but I sure am glad she didn't go into labor on stage. Plus, what's up with all these big hip hop names sampling ethnic indie chicks? Santogold, MIA - I think Jay-Z was involved with both, actually. I was trying to explain who MIA is to someone recently, and started singing a little from "Paper Planes," since it seems like Pineapple Express and more recently (and appropriately) Slumdog Millionaire has made it famous; the person was like, "Oh, that sounds like 'Swagga Like Us'." :headdesk: But most importantly maybe - Radiohead at the Grammys?! No, guys, no - quick, go back to the sidestream and quasi-obscurity - your tickets are hard enough to get as it is, damnit!!! (Though for real, with the USC Marching Band behind them, I could only think that they should have been a way better Superbowl Halftime Show - if such a thing wouldn't have made me kill myself [and probably Thom Yorke too - ha!])
That Chris Brown-Rihanna thing: Classy. What a douchebag.
That Slumdog Thing: Wow, what a great movie. I hear there's been criticism because of the bright colors used in the depiction of the slums and the weeding out of some of the really hardcore stuff; I say that's no different than Boyz in the Hood. Without giving too much away, how much harsher did you want it to be? It was beautiful. That's good enough for me.
That Rural Broadband Stimulus Thing: Broadband internet access should be available to everyone. I mean, yes, it's important for educational and health care purposes as it opens up the worlds of art, science, literature, and technology to people whose socio-economic positions and simple geographical locations prevent them from the kind of access to these things that people in cities and suburbs get - but truly, can we say we live in a nation where all men are created equal if not everyone has access to YouTube and lolcats? Srsly.

Okay, so that's a few things.

Beyond that, yesterday I got back from a five-night trip to Chicago for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference. It was in downtown Chicago (The Loop!), and wow, I love that city. We seriously lucked out with the weather, since I don't think it dropped below thirty while we were there - and the day we arrived, it was 61 degrees. Amazing! Beside walking around Grant Park, getting in trouble for walking across the stage at the Millenium Park Pavilion (we were looking for the bathroom!), and seeing the Art Institute (where I saw my first Van Goghs in person, as well as a Seurat on which I'd based a really awful pointalist painting I'd done in high school), the conference was great. I went to a good number of workshops, sold a bunch of issues of Redivider, talked to tons of interesting people, and got Mark Doty to sign a copy of his most recent book for me! (I'm so pleased he's going to be teaching at Rutgers - though if I'd known he was coming, I need to say, I might have seriously considered putting off graduation for another year and a half... LOL...) Another thing I need to say is that he stands as a prime example of a writer who is NOT an asshole - he was super friendly both times I saw him, kind and really cool, and he even remembered meeting me back at Rutgers.

Okay, enough Doty-gush.

One of my favorite panels was one featuring Marie Ponsot, Major Jackson, and Paul Muldoon, the topic of which was "The Duty of the Writer" - each of them had some really insightful things to say, and they answered questions and comments thoughtfully and thoroughly. (And of course, I asked a question about high art versus low art, and 'purifying the language of the tribe,' which Muldoon said is one of the duties of the writer/poet. What was cool about this was Marie Ponsot's total delight when she was discussing hip hop, and expressing her enthusiasm for it - and her suggestion that "hip hoppers would benefit from Emily Dickinson!")

Anyway, all this stuff really reinspired me, and I gained real insight into the whole business of writering - which is pretty awesome. I've returned excited and expanded, and with renewed enthusiasm for the work and the play of it all.

But now, I need to get back to some homework. Ha!