I found myself at the Portland Zine Symposium yesterday, talking with other very fervent, very impassioned, creators and wandering from table to table...moreI found myself at the Portland Zine Symposium yesterday, talking with other very fervent, very impassioned, creators and wandering from table to table, each awash in the fruits of some erstwhile thinker's labor of love. I'd traded away every copy of my own zine by the time I hit the Pioneer Press table and had to break my budget and plunk down actual cash for this tiny little tract. The brilliant cover drew me in, but flipping through it I knew that it needed to come home with me because it features some of the most concise advice I've found for dealing with your brain in those moments when you're teetering on the brink and about to succumb to another round of in the ongoing battle against depression. Adam Gnade has clearly fought many battles with the Big Sad and come out the other side time and again and he dispenses his wisdom in short and easily-digestible snippets like so:
"A Rough Guide to Surviving the Unsurvivable
1) If you live with monsters you'll become monstrous. This can be good and it can be bad. You need to keep your perspective and know when it's time to quit a bad scene.
2) Learn the difference between honesty and being a dick.
3) Once you stop looking for identity, you start to die.
4) Don't sabotage yourself. There are enough people out there who'll do it for you. Don't let the assholes win.
5) Read more than you drink.
6) When you feel the Big Motherfuckin' Sad coming on, scream as loudly as you possibly can. It's good medicine.
7) Remember: If someone is talking shit about someone else to you, they probably talk shit about you, too. If they're doing it on the internet, they're probably someone you don't want to be friends with. Know a vendetta when you see one. Shit-talkers are like black mold: they'll infect you and you might not even know it. You don't need that darkness in your life. Bitterness will jump from them to you."
I foresee the tiny book being pretty handy in those moments when I need a quick dose of perspective in order to avoid diving back down that rabbit hole of resentment, sorrow, and self destruction which has been my home for far too long.(less)
I am not predisposed to care for Dave Eggers. Admittedly, a lot of this has to do with my just pure visceral repulsion to his youthful memoir, A Heart...moreI am not predisposed to care for Dave Eggers. Admittedly, a lot of this has to do with my just pure visceral repulsion to his youthful memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, that phenomenally shallow and exploitative exercise in hubris. I've invested a lot of time and effort in a lot of book clubs explaining just why I loathe that book so much, so suffice to say that I have used this reaction to avoid reading any of his other works.
Still, my friends would ask, so what if I hated that book? Shouldn't I at least try another of his efforts? Could all of the praise that has been heaped upon both Zeitoun and What is the What be wrong? Wasn't my strict disavowal of his merits just as hubris-filled as his mocking debut, especially when luminaries from nearly every single still-extant newspaper's book section is showering it with acclaim? Beneath the weight of such impassioned queries my resolve weakened, sputtered, then died, and I found myself tucking into Dave Eggers once more.
I could never be happier that I did so. Zeitoun follows the family of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun, a Syrian-American family in New Orleans that runs a bustling construction business. Told in harrowing snippets of time, Eggers recounts Kathy and the children's flight from the storm even as Abdulrahman battens down the hatches at the family home and prepares to ride out what he assumes to be another in a long line of weaker-than-predicted hurricanes. No sooner have Kathy and the family settled in with her Islamophobic family than Abdulrahman calls, first to let her know that the storm had passed and the house was fine, then later to tell her that the levies must have broken because the house was flooding and he was moving all the keepsakes and important possessions to the top floor. Then the electricity cut out and the nightmare that was post-flood New Orleans began.
Day after day, Abdulrahman would set out in his canoe. Floating through the streets of his city he would pick up stranded neighbors and drop them at evacuation centers, feed and reassure abandoned pets trapped in the attics of homes near him, and inspect the flood damage of the various apartment buildings and houses that he and Kathy owned. He was offered ample opportunity to leave the city and when he and Kathy would speak everyday at noon, she would beg him to leave the city, her fear for her husband's safety growing as she fed on the constant stream of news from her home- of riots in the Super Dome, looting through the streets, martial law being declared and vigilantes enforcing order. Still Zeitoun demurred, there was something keeping him there. He felt that he was needed there, to render assistance as needed, that this was a calling his life had been leading him toward. He was doing unquestionable good, had saved many of his neighbors lives, and he wanted to be prepared to rebuild as soon as the flood waters receded.
So of course, everything goes cock-eyed. New Orleans is being patrolled by a motley grab-bag of law enforcement professionals, national guard soldiers just returned from Afghanistan and Iraq, and Blackwater mercenaries. FEMA falls under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, and is thus also inundated with that hyper-paranoid brand of government-sanctioned, revenge-tinted, racism that calls into suspicion every person of color and presumes guilt without even evidence of a potential crime. Zeitoun and a handful of survivors are picked up by a posse of police deputies and US Marshalls, imprisoned in a hastily built detention facility in the parking lot of the Greyhound Station (note- the multimillion dollar facility was constructed while thousands of people were starving and fighting one another for water in the Super Dome, which should say everything that ever needs to be said about priorities in militarized America).
He is given no chance to discover why he is detained, or even to get word to his wife that he is in custody, he has pepper spray repeatedly sprayed into his enclosure and is essentially treated in the same manner as those who have disappeared into Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial. Down this rabbit hole of government denial, secrecy, ineptitude and callousness Zeitoun falls- shipped to a remote prison and placed deep behind bars where no one knows his name, no contact with the outside world and daily abuse from his jailers who see him as partially complicit in the 9-11 attacks. It's not until a compassionate chaplain leaves a frightened message for Kathy, after two weeks of imprisonment, that the family even learns that he's alive, albeit in even more dire straits than the hurricane.
Not only is Zeitoun a beautiful tale of heroism, compassion and pure neighborly goodness but it is also a gripping reflection of racism in a post-Patriot Act America and an indictment of what can happen when fear and mindless obedience overrides reason and rational thinking. This is a story of the Bush Years at what should be remembered as the darkest point in a very dark period, the destruction of New Orleans during and after Hurrican Katrina. This is a time that revealed to the entire world that the United States as a government lacked the skills, resources and even the will to save one of its major metropolitan cities, but it also provides ample opportunity to showcase the vibrancy of the human spirit and the undimmed ability some have to do what is right and to help their neighbors, human and non-human, when needed. Dave Eggers captured both aspects exceptionally well, and I'm rather relieved to say that I was hasty in judging him solely upon his ...Staggering Genius and his works will absolutely have a place upon my reading lists from here forth.(less)
I’m not normally a big fan of books about food. They always leave me cursing my limited culinary abilities and hungry for foods that are far outside o...moreI’m not normally a big fan of books about food. They always leave me cursing my limited culinary abilities and hungry for foods that are far outside of my price range, not to mention excluded by various personal dietary choices. I likely never would have picked up anything by Ruth Reichl had I not found myself uncharacteristically bookless while lounging in the park this past weekend and in need of diversion. Fortunately a friend had a copy of this deep in the bottom of her bag and I was able to while away an afternoon in my preferred manner.
A book that is part biography, part paean to the glory of the kitchen, and part cookbook, Tender At The Bone is one of the quickest reads I’ve had all year. Ruth Reichl is editor of Gourmet magazine and her long years in the magazine industry are evident in her writing style. Chapters are short and to the point (no frippery for her) and punctuated by a recipe of whatever delicious creation she has been reminiscing about. These vignettes follow Ruth and her lifelong relationship with food- from her mother’s inability to tell when food has spoiled to her first gig waitressing to her membership in a Berkeley restaurant collective to a delicious and educational trip through French wine country. Initially I was put off by the early scenes of her learning to cook from her family’s servants (scenarios of privilege such as these always tend to fan the flames of my class resentment) but I can get over the fact that, trite though they are, this is life as this woman has experienced it. On the whole the story is better off when Ruth allows herself to be overcome with the delight she feels in food, several descriptions had me salivating like some Pavlovian pooch and wishing I knew people who could cook these fantastic confections for me.
Like I said, it is a quick read that won’t stick with you long (though the recipes may), but enjoyable in a pinch. I doubt I’ll rush out and buy the rest of her books, but should one fall into my hands on a plane ride or another sunny day, I wouldn’t complain.(less)
Sometimes I start to tell people about my experiences in high school and they look at me as though I'm from another planet. Every day for four years I...moreSometimes I start to tell people about my experiences in high school and they look at me as though I'm from another planet. Every day for four years I would wake up at 5:30, deliver papers around my neighborhood, defrost my toes, and head to school by 6:30 for zero hour chamber choir rehearsals. I typically would not leave the building again until 8 or 9 in the evening, having eaten very little but sustained on a near constant drip of Mountain Dew and the occasional banana or apple. I had the security deactivation code for several teachers, keys to the teacher's lounge, complete unfettered access to the photocopier, could walk the halls with impunity during class time, and keys to more than a few classrooms.
"What sort of odd utopian high school did I go to?", you may wonder. Was I the child of some overworked teacher or administrator? Not at all. I was a member of the Debate Team. Every year, starting in July and continuing until the National Qualifying Tournament, we would research the assigned topic, write our cases, continue to research, cram ourselves and our tubs full of evidence onto buses that vented exhaust directly into the interior and flee travel from North Idaho over to whichever University or high school was hosting this particular weekend's tournament. Along the way we would miss a lot of class time, meet extremely interesting people from all over the nation, and get to argue about whether the United States Government's support of the International Space Station would trigger a nuclear conflict with Russia or whether the use of gender specific language in the debate round served to reentrench patriarchal systems of behavior.
Without putting too melodramatic of a point on it, debate saved my life. At a time when I had no interest in compulsory education, it provided an outlet for me to advance my own studies and, later, provided the means (a much coveted scholarship) by which I could flee Idaho. It was with great excitement then that I picked up Joe Miller's Cross-X, a recounting of the 2002-2003 debate season for Central Kansas City High School. An inner city school that has been the focus of national attention time and again for its academic defficiency and struggles with desegregation, Central doesn't really have a lot going for it other than its nationally-ranked debate team.
Miller follows two teams of debaters, a varsity team that ranked in the top 75 teams in the country and a novice team just getting their first taste of the weird and hyper-specialized world of cross-x, or policy-style, debate. This book could have easily become another example of the "struggling inner city youth makes good" cliche if Miller had maintained his journalistic integrity. Fortunately, as he gets to know these debaters, watch their rounds, fight against the recalcitrant Missouri HS activities association trying to bar them from national-level competitions, and confront the structural racism of both the education system as a whole and the debate community in particular, Miller himself gets drawn into the story. It's little things at first (writing letters to the school board to draw their attention to problems, convincing a debater that an upcoming tournament is more important than a computer game) but soon enough he is helping chaperone, cutting cards as a new Assistant Coach and, finally, setting up his own debate program at another urban Kansas City high school.
A lot of this read as old hat for a while, anyone who has been involved in the activity for long is well aware that there is a very serious dearth of female or minority debaters. It's also clear that, on the national level, it is dominated by just a few very well-funded public schools and private academies. The book really begins to take off when Miller's debaters begin to question these underlying truths of the debate world using Paulo Freire's seminal Pedagogy of the Oppressed and flip the traditional structure of the debate round on its head. It was incredibly nostalgic to hear about the case they write using UN peacekeepers in the Third World as a metaphor for the rich/poor (privileged/put down?) dichotomy that splits the Nationally-ranked elite from the struggling inner city teams.
My senior year of high school, when the topic was increasing education, my partner and I ran a very similar case using Sr. Freire's powerful philosophy, eschewing the traditional format of writing a plan to do so and advocating the adoption of a critical consciousness in the debate community itself. It made people incredibly upset when they first heard it (just as the case Miller's debaters create offended) because it attacked the very foundations of the sport that we all very much loved, but as the year went on and opposing teams kept losing to it, it gained a grudging respect in the North-West. To read of another team attempting the same thing, and succeeding on a level that we could only dream of (there is only one possible tournament that teams from the NW can compete in to gain a TOC bid and that's all the way down in Berkeley. Kansas City may have been stuck because of bureaucratic waffling but we were stuck due to budget constraints- who can afford to go to Texas to compete?) was an utter delight.
While those outside the debate community may not find this book too interesting, it deserves to be read by anyone who has ever stacked their debate tubs atop one another, given a roadmap and then proceeded to speed-read several dozen pages of evidence in a five minute rebuttal. It's a niche market, to be sure, but an important one that Miller clearly loves yet remains unafraid of criticizing. It's definitely reawakened a side of myself I thought long dead and has me contemplating getting involved in the activity once more.(less)
Memory, as Proust has so eloquently recounted, is a tricky thing. What we remember of an event is tinted by our own life experiences, opportunities, f...moreMemory, as Proust has so eloquently recounted, is a tricky thing. What we remember of an event is tinted by our own life experiences, opportunities, failures, and in no small part the exigencies of a given situation. What I remember of, say, a car accident I was in when I was 16 could be entirely different from the recollection of the driver of the car I was in, not to mention the occupants of the car that hit us. When speaking of the memories of the addict, this tendency for amnesia-fueled historical rewrites can be exacerbated to Swiftian proportions. So when I first heard of Gunn's memoir, wherein he seeks to ferret out the truth from his own stack of misremembered nights, I was intrigued. The idea of a reporter returning to the scene the crime twenty years afterward to interview witnesses and chart his own descent was a conceit that very much appealed to me.
I can think of few books whose narrator I've loathed so absolutely and completely. From its opening pages, Carr lays himself bare to the reader, advising that he is not a good guy and that there is much in his past that can be found abhorrent. Don't worry, he reassures us readers, while he may have beaten more than a few women, he still pays penance and reemerges as the protagonist of his own story. He found salvation in the raising of his daughters and has concocted a redemption song that can make the most hard-hearted weep, so he hopes. I call bullshit. This book is the work of a self-aggrandizing narcissist who possesses both an unflinching honesty in recounting his addiction history but also no small measure of blindness as to how his own privileged position as a white male member of the press allowed him his many chances for self correction. Chances that are frittered away time and again in actions that would have sent a poorer person of color to prison for life.
This lack of a broader context left me seething on more than one occasion as I made my way through Carr's memoir. Most significantly is the pass he gives himself regarding his history of abusing women. While interviewing one of his former victims, they both laugh awkwardly at the memory he has of holding her arms over her head while beating her face in an "oh look what drugs made me do" moment that absolves him of any personal guilt in terrorizing a woman he purported to love. Additionally he attempts to indict the testimony of the only woman who does hold him responsible for his lies and violence by repeatedly pointing out that she was also an addict and that she, unlike the heroic narrator, never managed to get her act together and is still struggling to this day.
It took a while for me to pinpoint what rubbed me so raw about this book but I think that is it. That while purporting to be an honest narrative of his own descent and recovery, it is still constructed by an author that desires to be liked by his reader and so grants himself a pass to spin or softball some events I see as highly problematic. As far as addiction memoirs go, this is a well written attempt but about halfway through I came to the realization that David Foster Wallace has already said nearly everything that needs to be said about addiction and that everything else is just so much icing on the cake. There are better books out there dealing with this same difficult subject matter, Carr's is just not necessary.(less)
Hilarious, as always. Magnificently endowed midgets, an Adonis of a stripper known only as THUNDER, a cruise ship performer- her conquests stack up ra...moreHilarious, as always. Magnificently endowed midgets, an Adonis of a stripper known only as THUNDER, a cruise ship performer- her conquests stack up rather quickly and fortunately for the reader nearly always end in tears and/or vodka. Chelsea is always willing to skewer herself for the cause of a good joke and this book is full of them. Definitely not for the easily offended or delicately sensible. (less)