Doomed Love for Queer Youth

(or mostly)

Having a crush in high school is already hard enough. Add a layer of compulsive heterosexuality and a drop for one’s inability to safely be out and a perfect creation of doomed queer relationships arises from the ashes. 

This is the hardest and most vulnerable piece I’ve written for my blog, so bear with me.

We are set up to fail. Queer youth in relationships not only have to deal with the normal parts of a juvenile and introductory exploration of one’s emotions with another individual, but the systematic cultural inequity that comes with queerness. We not only have to deal with the note-passing and gossip, but the reality that a crush could turn into violence. That our parents, teachers, and peers see us as not simply boys and girls being young and reckless but as children unworthy of acceptance, unworthy of the right to exist, and unworthy of the simple right to have a crush. 

In all the years I played high school basketball I never got changed in the locker room. I didn’t want the trope of the predatory-lesbian to ruin my already unique physical presentation. I mastered the empty scroll of my phone when my teammates were merely existing in a world of physicality they never second-guessed. But I did. 

And then when we realize we’re gay or bi or definitely not straight, then we have to reconcile with our current crushes and our past friendships. We don’t avoid telling our friends merely for added suspense but because it could lead to our expulsion from groups of people we’ve known our whole life. And when it actually becomes plausible to enter a same-sex relationship you might as well be Princess Diana and the press. 

For the small minority of queer youth that has had the ability, privilege, and situational circumstances that allow for the engagement into a romantic relationship, oftentimes (I’ve realized) it ends in extreme heartbreak. Why is that? Why does the imploding breakup of two queer kids in high school hurt more than that of their straight ones?

Take my advice as a queer former high school student in a relationship. We were idolized, fetishized, talked about- expectations about our end-date, our engagement, and future kids even projected by almost strangers. But we were also trailblazers. We wore pantsuits and held hands in our classes, queer students younger than us said we were the reason they felt safe to come out. We broke expectations in the halls but outside of school later, we’d break each other’s hearts. 

When a group of white boys said the n-word, the queer and black kids united together to try to hold them responsible. We had this almost maternal-like presence among all the marginalized folks at our school, a pressure I thought I could handle. I thought I fell in love with someone because of simple attraction, it was only after my relationship ended when I realized maybe I fell in love because my ex was the only other [out] person. When you’re queer in high school not only are you looking for a needle in a haystack in order to find a partner but a needle that is silver, not straw color like the rest. To be queer in high school is to say, in order to make just that first step, you have to make an act of political heroism by coming out.

Queer breakups hurt more because your first bonding moment was simply the act of being queer. That, not a shared love for a sport or a musical group, is what initially and inevitably first brings you together. Then, when the breakup comes, you in a way feel like you’re breaking up with that first shared trait: your own queerness. Your mind races as you think of all the things you did wrong or could have avoided to save the relationship: therefore your own identity is questioned and examined. It’s deeper than how you forgot about your anniversary or gave a bad Valentine’s Day present. Did you really love the person or did you love that you finally found someone you could love? We’re forced to navigate these uncharted and intensely deep waters with absolutely no representation to help guide us. Maps, compasses, sonar navigation, these things were created with only heterosexuality in mind. 

Audre Lorde wrote,

“When I live through pain without recognizing it, self-consciously, I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it. I condemn myself to reliving that pain over and over and over whenever something close triggers it. And that is suffering, a seemingly inescapable cycle.”

I have felt pain but now it gives me power.

So how do we break this vicious cycle? First, we create new fantasies where the queer relationship is not romanticized and void of the inherent tinge that our capitalist-based system forever holds over us. That is to say, under our economic global system of capitalism, queer people will never be truly liberated so stop telling young queer people that it’s possible to come out with no negative consequences. Do not tell them that because gay marriage was “legalized” by the white house a couple of years ago you can be safe wherever. Perhaps this take is cynical, or perhaps this take is just understanding reality. Let us teach queer kids that homophobia is so deeply ingrained in our systems that even when they feel it is safe to come out they will always face oppression. Warn them, prepare them, educate them. Do not tell your gay son that his future will be full of rainbows and sparkles. Teach him that no matter how good his love is, he will forever be fighting uphill. And most importantly teach him to become a revolutionary so that we can liberate our humanity from the wretches of neoliberalism that sustains the foundation for bigger marginalizations such as homophobia. 

See we fail when we mask the violence, when we convince ourselves that we have done enough, and, that there is not more to be done. It is when we say racism is of the past, same-sex marriage is already legalized, and the Holocaust is over and done that we don’t condone violence, but ignore it and forget it. Instead, teach our youth of these tragedies, show them the systems in their present lives that continue to shape them. Raise our kids to question power structures and preserve the lessons of history. Show our kids that change towards the liberation of groups of people is a forever but vital battle that requires systematic upheaval.

To me, it seems like love is mostly doomed for queer youth. We’ve simplified queerness as this one-step process of merely “coming out.” But what happens after? What happens when you get into a relationship that looks like none of the others around you? When you are forced to not make decisions about where to get dinner but how to stay safe in the hallways? Why do we convince queer youth that once you’re out, it is all better? Why don’t we fight to make that next step in human relationships just as accepted? Queer youth will forever have it harder even when they are past that “first step”. Until we talk about it, provide representation and academic analysis, show real-life examples of healthy relationships, until then, we will be doomed. 

And then when we’re old and grown, after we’ve experienced those embedded injustices and understand how to maneuver in a world made for and by the one percent, only then, will we be forced to deal with our juvenile adventures. Not only will we have to reconcile with our adaptation to adulthood but with the trauma of our past deeds of existing in a world not made for queer kids. Our future romantic endeavors will forever be plagued by the ones that hurt so badly because they were formed beyond the realm of a traditional relationship. They were formed and broken beyond just high school drama and immaturity but in bold politics and the declaration of identity that could and would cause violence (big and small). Queer kids will forever be plagued by a childhood that wasn’t set up for their existence. 
So to the 16-year-old girl who just came out as a lesbian. Who sees a cute girl sitting in the back of her biology class with a flannel and some black nail polish. Just know that your queerness is larger than one step of coming out. Your battle just to crush, just to love, will forever be tainted by our system of global capitalism which will continuously encourage systematic homophobia. But I must admit my biases because of my own failed queer high school relationship, so instead, I’ll say good luck to you. Know that it will be harder than you ever imagined, but to just love is worth it.

Miss Rumphius and Reflecting on the Violence and Romanticization of Childhood Stories and Memories

I’ve had the privilege of academically diving into the idea of recognizing the violence in so many of our most beloved childhood stories at Bryn Mawr College. In some of my English classes, we’ve analyzed the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lucy Maud Montgomery, all three Brontë sisters. Now outside of my usual academic setting, I’ve stumbled back into the work of Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. It happened accidentally really, my landlord drove me past a little cottage she stayed at during a difficult time in her life. Up the road diagonal from town, overlooking the vastness of blue water and fields of these grand flowers. What blossoms are these I wonder? 

“lupines”

my little old lady friend says. And then it hits me. 

I text my mom right away. “I’m living with the lupine lady”

I go to Google right away and pull out words, sentences, phrases, and vivid pictures that feel like my own distant memories- not just words from a book that used to be read to me. I feel like I am looking through an old book of photos from my childhood. I feel like I am listening to recordings of my squeals on my fourth birthday. But this story is not mine and it is not written by my own being. And when I dive deep into the words and pictures, not only am I confronted by this intense feeling of familiarity but by the shocking realization of something much scarier: there is violence in these pages.

What are you supposed to do when you realize the white-colored blankets that hugged you during childhood were created by the forced exploitation of others? What are you supposed to do when you re-read Laura Ingalls Wilder and realize the intense racism of the narrative? What are you supposed to do when you find out Lucy Maud Montgomery was an anti-suffragette? What are you supposed to do when you realize Jane Eyre didn’t just prosper because of her inspiring character but because of the privilege of white inheritance? What are you supposed to do when a little flower brings you back to some of the fondest words and pictures that ever caressed your childhood, only to see words and images you now know have undertones rooted in violent imperialization?

You don’t ignore it. You can’t ignore it. You confront it head-on. Don’t get me wrong, Miss Rumphius is a great work of children’s literature. As are all the other books I mentioned before. But we are not children anymore and we can not choose to also revert back to inherent childlike innocence. We need to talk about the violence in these books. We need to analyze them with the same effort we put into understanding the other themes and symbols. We need to never read these stories to future generations without the disclosure of the full story: one of systemic brutality. 

Now you might be asking yourself, what can be so wrong in a book about an old lady and lupines? This book is a perfect example of the whitewashing of the “American Dream”, the legacy of white saviorism in “travel” which most oftentimes masks for pure imperialization, and the mythology of safeness in a land where people of color, specifically indigenous folks, could not have the same outcome as Miss Rumphius. Her grandfather makes money carving “Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores” (not only the appropriating of the picture of an indigenous figure but of the capitalist whitewashing of Europeanized consumption and industry of tobacco). He also painted pictures of sailing ships and even though as we know I love boats and sailboats specifically, during this period, we know that they were vehicles to further global imperialization. And one of the three things he tells Alice to do is to travel which as I’ve written about in my past blog posts has deeper routes in how capitalist economies brutalize the global south. In the illustrations which are visually stunning and as I mentioned before, so nostalgic I almost feel like I’m peering into photographs of my own childhood, we can see moments that document the immorality of imperialization under the disguise of “travel.” While I appreciate in one of the pictures it is Bapa Raja giving her the shell instead of the white figure “giving” something to Bapa Raja, the picture is still a classic example of the global divide created by neoliberalism and white supremacy. 

And while the ending of this novel is so satisfying I cannot help but know that this resolution would be impossible for anyone else but a white lady whose family benefited off of colonization. Yet it is also wrong to deny the connection I had to this story and still have today. I think that if we recognize these immoral moments and the systems that created them in the past and further them today, our reading of texts like this actually becomes more whole and satisfying. While it might seem sad to reflect on the badness of our favorite childhood tales it shows our maturity through life. It shows that now we can fully understand the true impact of stories. 

As I drove past the little cottage with a field of lupines over the sea I was taken aback by the same image we see in the story. As I looked out, a cat crossed the street as we see in the book and I couldn’t help but feel an insanely strong connection. My whole time here in Maine has felt like something out of a story: and for good reason. I’ve buried my head in books by the famous author, Ruth Moore, who writes the actual stories of the people from this island. So much so that I oftentimes get confused when my bosses try to example stories of the real history from this island. I find myself wondering, is that something which happened or something out of a Moore novel instead? So I guess it makes sense that I was also thrown into a book full of the most wonderful pictures like the frames of real-life wonder that surround me daily. Cooney’s story, the story that my mom read to me, the story that I have now analyzed more thoroughly, is a story that I can see right in front of me. I imagine current me telling little me: You’ll never believe it, I found where Miss Rumphius really lives! But as I’m taken back to reality I realize that it is not only little Ella that I wish to tell, but my own current self. In a field of purple lupines, I see my whole life in front of me. I see this small cottage by the blue sea, and I see a sea in front of me because of the life I’ve created. In my journal, I write: “I am so proud of who I am.”

I drive away from the lupine field. Not because I want to do anything but hug those little, frail, colorful flowers- but because I am running late for my next activity. I will be back though, very soon. I will be back to this little cottage on a hill overlooking blue waves and a grand sea, surrounded by lupines I can only imagine were planted by a Miss Rumphius who lived a long time ago and, who’s future was and will be taken care of by those like me, who will never forget her story. 
Pdf link to text 

Writing (His)Stories as They Happen

In the same way that we see history as the study of the past, I sometimes wonder about the ability to tell stories without later reflection. If we can think so intensely and fondly of memory does that mean that in the moment, while the action was taking place, an equal relationship occurred? Or perhaps to phrase it in a less complicated manner: why are memories more romantic than the current moment? Does time give us context and reason with stories like it does when we decide what history to tell to our future generations? Does time erase the rough edges and smooth out the quiet, inherent optimism? Or maybe I’m even straying too far in trying to divide history and stories altogether; are stories just pure history that has been remembered differently?

As I work and live here on this island in Maine, I am accosted by the constant feeling that I need to be documenting every living moment. I need to write down exactly where I went today, what the tide looked like on the shore this morning, the names of all the dogs I pet. 

But when we kayaked across the harbor and floated through the channel to see the lighthouse on a glassy seabed- as we were greeted by seals and pink skies- changing tides and changing light- sore arms but happy faces- a call halfway in the middle of the ocean to a restaurant saying we’d be late to our reservation- when I was experiencing this moment, my mind did not have space to document a perfect story. 

As I sit here today I can romanticize that evening as much as I want. I can leave out that current that almost swept us away or convince you that we battled against it and reigned victoriously. I can add details that in the moment were not first-in-line in my head: the rhythm of the bell buoys matching up with the motions of our swinging paddles: the redness of the granite rocks that surrounded us. 

Perhaps that is why writers go on retreats into silence, into spaces of less stimulation and more areas to think. In the same way that history can only be defined by looking back, I find it nearly impossible to write a good story as it is happening. Perhaps the story that goes on in the present; the story that is what you are experiencing, isn’t a story because it’s actually just life

Working in a museum this summer has given me a better relationship with how I view the past because, in reality, the past is what we make of it. History is only the one folder I chose to open from the stack of infinite ones in the corner. History is only the details about our kayaking to the lighthouse adventure that I chose to include in my descriptions. We have the ability to shape our own history in the same way we select certain details to include in our stories. This is a curse but it is also a blessing. 

I will never be able to sort through all the folders in the corner. Even the ones I go through will have missing pieces that I skip. And in the same way that I will never remember the exact details of every moment for my stories I need to realize that is okay. As long as we are trying to tell history, as we are trying to write stories, I think that is good enough. We can’t beat ourselves up about not getting every single thing right because our own documentation of moments will soon be a distant history.

I imagine that in a couple of months from now, maybe even years, I will be writing about my adventures in the summer of `21 on Mount Desert Island. Certain details will be jagged and others more smooth and thought-out. But that process itself, the process of waves continuously going over smooth rocks (memories) and causing them to evolve constantly is a history and a story within itself. One that no matter what, is worth sharing.

The Lighthouse Guided Me to Shore: My Adventure Coming to Bass Harbor, Maine

The day after I finished finals I had a dream about a lighthouse. When I woke up, having nothing immediate to do for the first time in forever, I decided to look up some lighthouses on the east coast. Maine in particular always struck my fancy, as my Mom is from a tiny island off of Boothbay Harbor called Southport. The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse immediately stuck out to me as not only notable in its significance and beauty, but in its fairly reserved stature. It is not a million feet tall and painted with red and white stripes. It is sturdy yet humble, nestled into the rock face yet poignant against the crashing sea. I need to see that, I thought. 

I went onto the lighthouse’s website and was brought to a seperate page of the Tremont Historical Society. No internship applications were open but I found the email towards the bottom and sent an artistically crafted, pre-coffee thought out, no expectations whatsoever type of letter and then turned off my phone. Time to brush my teeth and get on with my day, I thought. Yet unlike the tons of other internships, organizations and people I had emailed about summer opportunities before, I got a reply back, within hours. Before I knew it, I was heading to Acadia for the summer, renting a room from the sweetest 75 year old woman, and interning at a small little red building on the “Quiet Side”. 

The first thing I learned while being here is that news spreads fast. Much like the chitter chatter we experience at a historically women’s college, let’s just say it would be a waste of time to keep big secrets around here. I think abstractly I’m known as that girl who likes lighthouses, because when I’m introduced to strangers they seem to already know me. My landlord mentioned one night that I did a good job fixing the scanner that day… who told her that? But in a way that is what attracted me right? This idea of a closed off space where your whole life exists! In my eyes I saw it as a tall white structure in the lighthouse but in reality it was this whole side of the island. But I cannot complain about gossip, because let me tell you it is a true paradise here.

I’ve hiked up iron ladders, up mountains and cliffs, I’ve gone on an impromptu five hours sail around multiple islands (that was supposed to just be my lunch break). I’ve been swimming almost everyday at the beach only known by the locals that has literally the coldest waters. At the Historical Society I’ve gotten to work on projects and dig through boxes of uncategorized information. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve gotten to see the lighthouse. 

I didn’t explore it the second I got here, in fact I waited a week. I wanted to savor my time and see the other things this place had to offer (which I would soon learn are so extensive it would take many lifetimes to conquer). And much like when I first saw that image early in the morning on a foggy humid day in Rhodes North Dorm at Bryn Mawr College, I was awestruck. People around me were taking pictures and peering over the cliffs towards the water. But I found the lighthouse’s presence to be like a lost sister or brother. This idea of a delimited space, dictated by time, routines, and nature, why is it so appealing to me I wonder? Is it because of my time aboard the schooner Shenandoah where I learned to live by the tides, sunshine, and wind? Or is it a post-pandemic reaction– is my relationship with routines in a little area forever skewed towards needing physical boundaries? The unknown towards the health and social boundaries that were plagued in deliminiation during COVID19 are not invisible but purposeful here. The lighthouse keeper has a job to do and I respect that set boundary.

My boss is Ruth Moore’s niece. She lives in the late Moore’s house built by Moore, her partner, and her partner’s father. Ruth Moore is perhaps one of the most famous and most important authors from Maine, and in this whole country. But this island seems to be full of coincidences like that. One day I was on a random hike when I arrived in the most beautiful cove and saw a little sailboat anchored. I took a picture of it through my binoculars thinking how jealous I was of whoever got to live on it. The next day I realized that was the same sailboat I was off for the day! Perhaps though, these aren’t merely coincidences and instead moments that display just how hard I worked to get here. I think about the hours I’ve spent working on my blog, digging through geo-political historical information, my time spent living on a cramped schooner. It is no coincidence that I ended up here, I consider this to be a result that I luckily was able to realize. And for a woman in a time where we are not allowed to grant ourselves credit for our many accomplishments, I must admit, I’m proud of my hard work.

The lighthouse guided me to the shores of a new place I had never been before. In a week’s time I’ve met the most interesting people and gone on so many adventures. I’ve gotten to see the most beautiful sunsets in the world. 

But when I think back to my time here a couple moments stand out to me the most. One day while I was swimming by myself at the local beach I was once again attracted by a seductive light, but this time that of the sun not of a lighthouse:

The sun didn’t actually set when I said it did in my head.

It was just an innocent misunderstanding, an honest mistake.

In reality while it set behind clouds of grays and purples, there was still room beneath for it to breach.

I stood with my feet coated in tiny stones and icy blue water. Seaweed that pops under pressure with crabs that try to nibble at your toes.

The false sun set created a new wave of light that spread over the horizon and a different kind of air was around.

And like the lighthouse that guided me here, the sun around me surrounded me, gave me a hug, and blessed me. For a place full of so many new places and adventures to explore, I feel so at home.

A Tide of Rainbow Rolls In: NYC Pride 2021

I was skeptical of this whole “going to Pride” thing. As an out lesbian, who, usually identifies as female and loves an androgynous presentation (but) despises the idea of identifying anywhere close to maleness (I guess lets to just say I’m an androgynous woman who uses she/they pronouns)… Anyway, I’ve always been a little bit skeptical of the modern pride march. As I’ve become more aware in my journey to class consciousness, in my journey of total liberation through Marxism, the irony of what often goes on at Pride has not escaped me. The commercialization of rainbow apparel from companies who have profited off of the exploitation of the queer community, neoliberal politicians jumping onto the same bandwagon they made fun of just ten years ago. Even when I was there this Sunday, I saw a whole man and sticking his penis in everyone’s faces, completely naked, I couldn’t help but think about the male privilege of taking a movement historically rooted in the liberation of trans folk and traumatizing a whole crowd of people. Sure, nudity and body liberation historically comes with that, but not a white guy swinging his penis into every gal’s face because all of a sudden we’re celebrating. 

I was scared I’d run into the gays who went to brunch the day after George Floyd was murdered. 

Who used their whiteness to masquerade an identity in which their skin color will always take precedence. I myself, my own presentation is one of privilege, would I be appropriating a fight routed in anti-capitalist, anti-white supremacist, and gender abolitionist tendencies? Wearing rainbows and glitter when trans kids are committing suicide at disproportionately high rates seemed juvenile honestly. 

Before going to NYC Pride this past Sunday I did some reading and some listening, Audre Lorde, one of the most inspirational lesbians I’ve read or known of in my lifetime wrote

“The love expressed between women is particular and powerful because we have had to love in order to live; love has been our survival.”

I actually really enjoyed pride. As a self-identifying introvert who hates the heat and crowds, I was surprisingly brought in by this rainbow tide and mixed into the other salty and sandy and sometimes murky shenanigans; and it was alright. A tide of rainbows embraced me and for the first time, I held my chest out full, didn’t flinch at the sight of a man, let myself daydream a little. People were dancing and drinking and smoking and laughing and even in my own little bubble the tide took me out slowly but surely and I realized the power in Pride. Pride is powerful because for the first time in forever we could take a break and not worry about our presentation. 

We took the subway back towards the end of our long day. A local guy and his trumpet played Miles Davis and my girlfriend and I took a moment to embrace and dance slowly. I didn’t feel eyes on my back like I did when I didn’t wear a dress to prom. I didn’t have to worry about the falsity of the predatory lesbian trope that stopped me from standing tall when I was an athlete in high school. I didn’t have to look both ways before I kissed my girlfriend and that was a new feeling for me.

As our neoliberal politicians try to erase queer history and convince us that we’ve achieved total equality already, let us remember moments like this one; and mostly, how rare they are. I like to imagine what I felt at Pride as a tide bringing me into a new bay of water. Sure I might run into waves and sea-creatures that are unfriendly. Sandbars that break up me from my family. Buoys that float and disturb the water’s peace, a huge shipping container boat disturbing the natural flow of the sea. Yet the tide still came in and I was still salty and sandy and warmed by the sun. Pride mattered to me because it was the first time where I felt like I could openly love. And as Audre Lorde wrote 

“Love has been our survival.”

Sparrows, Mao’s “Little Red Book”, and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge

If you’re a real follower of this blog then you’ve undoubtedly read my Biomythography. Chapter V is titled “Sparrow” and you can imagine my surprise when this same bird was mentioned in my little, red copy of Mao’s Quotations. 

I was reading on a pink kayak in the middle of a lake (I paddled out with the book in my pocket… that’s a joke for those who really know Mao). Before I knew it my little red book on a little pink kayak on a little velvety pond felt larger than a text that fit so snuggly in my own iconically small hands. I am not going to write about the biological or even cultural effects of Mao’s stigmatization of sparrows, that is sort of beyond the point and even niche(r) than what I hope to examine on this blog. But this little bird, this little sparrow which I wrote about in my Biomythography; about the place I found myself floating on, all of a sudden took me from the inner thoughts of Chairman Mao to my own written story on privilege. Specifically, the privilege I had been forced to reckon with at our white house on the top of the hill in the deep woods of the state of New Hampshire. I had always made jokes about Mao’s legacy as an anti-landlord, anti-leech figure. I think back to when the water beneath me had leeches, stories of how my relatives would have to pull them off their own pale skin. I think of the works of people like Jamaica Kincaid and now I wonder if the leeches in the lake have left because they’ve been replaced by the humans around it?

I sit in my kayak floating on the water that makes my hair curly and my legs tired, I read about Paper Tigers and about War strategies. No one else is on the lake and for a moment surrounded by green hills of trees and a blue sky with white cotton candy, I feel like perhaps I am the only person in the world presently. I close my eyes and take a break from the quotations in the book only to be confronted by questions in my own head. I hear something above me and open my eyes briskly hoping a bat awakening from a long sleep hasn’t emerged yet. That’s when I see the sparrow and I realize my connection. My favorite quote in Mao’s Quotations was one of his many metaphors that make his book so appealing and accessible to the general people. In “10. Leadership of Party Committees” Mao’s writes:

“Learn to ‘play the piano’. In playing the piano, all ten fingers are in motion; it will not do to move some fingers only and not others. However, if all ten fingers press down at once, there is no melody. To produce good music, the ten fingers should move rhythmically and in coordination. A Party committee should keep a firm grasp on its central task and at the same time, around the central task, it should unfold the work in other fields. At present, we have to take care of many fields; we must look after the work in all the areas, armed units and departments, and not give all our attention to a few problems, to the exclusion of others. Wherever there is a problem, we must put our finger on it, and this is a method we must master. Some play the piano well and some badly, and there is a great difference in the melodies they produce. Members of Party committees must learn to ‘play the piano’ well.”

I don’t know how to play the piano.

I don’t know how to play the piano but I am reading a book in the middle of a lake floating on a historically unstable kayak with a squawking yet comforting sparrow close above my head. I hold a long paddle in my hands and I wiggle my fingers. Yeah, maybe I would be good at the piano I think.

A week later my brain has recovered from Mao’s wise words and I think I am able to read fiction again. Some exciting news I guess, news which I plan on expanding upon further some other time… but I will be going up to Maine for an internship and living with a 75-year-old lady! Inspired by this, my mother demanded I read Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. One of the saddest books I think I have ever read, coming from someone who loves a good character death at the end, I think how depressed my mom must have been to recommend me this text. She says it’s popular and a real crowd pleaser; that makes me only more pessimistic about our general population’s happiness I guess. All of a sudden I think of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite characters, THE iconic Holden Caufield, and I think I realize my trepidation towards Strout’s work. 

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” 

Now the question is do I wish I could play a serenade on the piano and bring Mao back to life or would I prefer to ask Elizabeth Strout why she made her book so damn depressing?

I wonder why I am reading a book about old white people who live in Maine and all seem to be unhappy in their long marriages. Yet I struggle to put it down and before I know it I’ve finished. Maybe it is more normal to like a book like this one and a little more quirky to chose Mao to read on your summer vacation.

While there are no sparrows that fly in Olive Kitteridge, (none that I at least noticed), the plot of this novel does fly around between different characters that revolve around our central protagonist, Olive, in a flight pattern similar to that which flies over my head. The sparrow that flies around the lake and above the pink kayak, the sparrow from my Biomythography whose wing was injured, in that same image of a sparrow, I see the image of Strout’s web of stories. I see frantic flying back and forth and I see death like that in Mao’s ideal Chinese society with no grain-eating flyers. I see a sparrow fly from the rolling hills of New Hampshire to Maine where the story takes place and that is when I realize how these two books are connected. 


Sparrows, Mao’s “Little Red Book” and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge are all sort of sad and melancholic. The original sparrow of my writing was recorded for its broken wing, Mao’s fight was unfortunately not completely long-lasting, and in Strout’s book, I’ve been confronted with an overwhelming feeling of depression. But then I think back to that new sparrow that flew over my head in the pink kayak, and I realize that there is more than one sparrow in this world. I realize birds are prevalent and Mao is still being read and Olive Kitteridge is a book so good that someone practically forced me to read it. I remember this feisty, tenacious, little, and loud sparrow flying above my head on the pink kayak and instead of pure melancholy, I do sense one other feeling. Even if it is fleeting like the bird above, even if more methodologically than practically, the feeling of optimism is fresh in the air around me.

John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Childhood Expedition, and a World Already Discovered?

A book with a map as its cover, about some great expedition over water; these kinds of stories are simply irresistible to a literate sailor like me. Add the value of reading the work of people as important as Steinbeck and you’ve created my next read. This book reminded me of what it is like to be out at sea when the days melt into nights with only the sky to narrate social constructions that spin round twelve spots twice. I imagine I am out collecting samples of different species with Steinbeck and Ricketts and the crew of the Western Flyer. Harpooning a bluefin, anchoring according to the tide, avoiding the venomous spike from sea urchins in the shallows. I want to wade in the water oblivious to the land or the liquid, in my own separate space, a new dimension, my face turned down to the seafloor, my neck sore but my heart racing in anticipation of a possible discovery. 

Steinback wrote that a naval officer once asked him:

“‘Have you thought what happens in a little street when one of your shells explodes, of the families torn to pieces, a thousand generations influenced when you signaled Fire’ ‘Of course not,’ he said, ‘Those shells travel so far that you couldn’t possibly see where they land’.” (35)

I imagine what happens when that submarine launches that missile. I imagine that land that is too far away to actually see- if we stay in our place of launch at least. Now wading in the water with our pants rolled up beyond our knees, avoiding those urchins, seems juvenile. I ask myself what is the point in collecting and documenting these lives while we are destroying the lives of others across this grand sea?

I must admit, Steinback’s writing on the indigenous people he “observed” is nothing short of offensive and outdated. Although a lot of this book sets a good foreground for his future writing and political theory which we know as being more on the left, I do think he romanticized and simplified cultures that were so systematically dismantled. Don’t get me wrong, he does acknowledge this thorough genocide of the indigenous people around the Sea of Cortez, yet his analysis of that intrinsic steps in imperialization sometimes fell flat. Let us not read books like this and ignore their “political incorrectness” merely because they are outdated. I always think back to how Jamaica Kincaid said she would rather have a reader read the Brontë sisters than herself, yet all the books she published refuted the layers of white supremacy embedded in Victorian text. Let us acknowledge and dive deep into the hurt but let us not bury it to forget this history. 

I am not extremely well versed in all of Steinback’s work, but I can say this expedition throughout the growth of this own individual text was telling. Much like the biological wonders Steinback and his mates encountered, his own germination can be observed, poked at and prodded, preserved in formaldehyde when you stop at the end of the night at one chapter and pick it up the next day. I imagine us putting this book in the tank with some of his vast creatures and I see a young John turn into a man. Expeditions like this one are never just about the surface level mission after all, right? While the cover of evolving creatures sure is romantic, what I take away from this book is Steinback’s interpretation of man most intensively. 

Lastly, the idea of discovering the unknown really struck me. Besides that foundation being deeply appropriated by westernized influences, I also beg to argue if the undiscovered even exists. Steinback would often wonder what other man had stepped foot in places before him. Yet as he picked up and wondered at these very lively creatures I couldn’t help but think about their own personal narratives. Products of their environments: Steinbeck and his men literally learned that you could understand the history of a geographic religion by looking at those creatures who inhabited the spaces for centuries. Instead of finding books in a local library, newspaper articles detailing a town’s history, Steinback picked up an eel and was told a different story. Steinback never discovered a fresh set of empty pages to write about a land undiscovered, he merely cut and pasted differently ripped-out pages of a vast book with no ending. A starfish on this page and a hammerhead on the other. Aren’t these the kinds of stories that we see even beyond on boats in the water or submarines sending missiles. I realized that the undiscovered matters because it makes up the story we live, the story that develops as we speak. 

Maybe that is what Steinbeck realized too, and what prompted his writing to be so foundational to our worldly understanding of the Universe and our man-made systems, especially in places of intense nature, like the Sea of Cortez where his adventure and journey really started.

6-17-21 | 9:41 PM | Richmond, New Hampshire

Beyond the wind against the lake, beyond that sound or lack thereof, beyond that space where emptiness becomes full and thought-worthy; beyond this, a new space, a new area of space, empty space, space that takes up no space has arisen. Maybe it took growing up with the road being the stepping stones to that new area, space-less-ness, openness, delimited, unlimited heaven. The wind rushes, races, flows, unwinds through the trees into this stream of man-made concerts. I think I hear a car, I get ready to move to the side, only to be confronted with a vehicle of breeze instead. What is it called when your body is so prepared for the human crash, that the breath from a leaf on a branch, in a tree, on the earth, caresses the same encouragement to the side? I imagine an invisible car not made out of steel or metal. Made out of the flow of air that a creator supposedly breathes. The earth trembles, the trees of lungs, of a big barreled chest inhales and pushes out the wind breezy, invisible car, automobile, vehicles. Transportations, surfboard on the open-air racer, I never want to leave this empty one-lane highway again. Ever. The bullfrogs croak the orange newts -not salamanders- will start crossing later. The crickets crick and jets fly low beneath. I wonder who else knows about this highway besides my best friend named “wind.” Who else spreads their wings to fly over here. I think about all my favorite places and people. Sounds, colors, and midnight tales, motion, and stillness, breathing in and out versus holding it. Has my best friend “wind”’ always visited me and I just never noticed? The wind sings in its impossible, solely collaborative, with a solo or individualistic chorus, and I listen. Tonight, I listen. 

Picture of tree and sky (and wind if you use your imagination)

The Young Comrade, the Soc-Dem to Marxist Pipeline, and Göran Therborn’s From Marxism to Post-Marxism?

To the young comrade, yeah, you. To the young comrade who has finally found a social theory, a political frame, a new set of glasses that doesn’t ignore the wretches, the purposefully impoverished, the systematically oppressed. To the young comrade who too many in their times has asked, if we have too many houses why do too many people not have homes? To the young comrade who watched Rachel Maddow convince you in 2015 that morality makes our political landscape great, that a certain Clinton administration would be the answer to all your problems. To the young comrade that lives in a state with police who have not been reformed since their origin as slave catchers.

Here’s to the Soc-Dem to Marxist pipeline. Here’s to the people who start to realize that questioning houselessness isn’t merely an issue of giving that person a dollar when you get off the train, but that our government and capitalist, ruling class, purposefully chooses to keep those people on the streets. Here’s to the people that realize we teach our kids addiction is a disease yet throw a lock and key away when someone gets sick. Here’s to the people who realize your representative will never represent you when their wallets are filled with big corporations that can prove legality in whatever makes them money. Here’s to the people who wonder who killed Martin Luther King Jr.? Who killed Malcolm X? Who killed Fred Hampton? To the people who learn about how our government trained child soldiers in El Salvador to kill their own fathers because of our economic interests. Here’s to the people who dealt with their parents watching CNN droning on how Russia interfered with our election when this country interferes in the democracy of every single other country not already bribed by bread and the need to survive. 


I made my way through Göran Therborn’s From Marxism to Post-Marxism? to the best of my abilities. I took away some more thoughts on my previously formed idea of shapes in Marxism that I plan on sharing on this blog later, but I also confronted other matters of contention. Mostly what I realized is what Marxism has become for me. Therborn wrote:

“Marxism became both the political language and the theoretical perspective for a generation of radicals who found in it the best way to understand the phenomena of colonial wars and underdevelopment, as well as the domestic socio-economic functioning of Western democracy”

(100).

And thus I learned that

“… underdevelopment was not lack of development, but rather something which had developed out of global capitalism…”

(103)

And thus I learned that

“Modernity in the colonial zone has been particularly traumatic, with its fulcrum around the relationship of the conquered to the conquest and to the conqueror”

(105).

The young comrade, the victim (or benefactor) of the soc-dem to Marxist pipeline, me, myself, we learned, we received answers to our questions, our questioning, our tenacious attitude that deep down never accepted weak bandaids. Us. We know gashes and wounds can never be merely covered over and kissed better, we know that no amount of motherly attention will solve our lacerations. We know that what we must do, is discover who is continuously harming us first. 

And so we fight on.

A Brief Book Review: Marx’s Concept of Man by Erich Fromm

I must admit I stumbled upon this copy in the basement of a local bookstore in the used section. Any book about Marx for $3.00 is a steal and before I knew it I was reading my own copy in my light-filled room the next morning. 

In some ways, I agreed with Fromm’s ideas and the Marx work that he drew from. Yet, Fromm who was apparently a self-declared democratic-socialist, fell into the Westernized traps against any sort of economic determination in countries foreign from our own. For example, I absolutely loved Fromm’s point that Marxism in a lot of ways actually helps the individual to create and live into their more personalized identity. Still, his demonization of the Soviet-based systems seemed silly, fragmentary, and sometimes ahistorical. His love for Marx is clear, and in some cases I found myself chuckling at his moments of pure adoration, but likewise, the ways he constructed his ideas of Marxism (perhaps because of his extreme veneration for Marx) seemed to be a little idealistic and quixotic. 

Focusing on the positives from this novel, like mentioned earlier, I really got into the idea that communism can liberate the individual. One fairly good quote from the copious amount of great one-liners comes towards the beginning of his piece:

“For Marx the aim of socialism was the emancipation of man, and the emancipation of man was the same as his self-realization in the process of productive relatedness and oneness with man and nature”

(38).

This reminded me of Che Guevara’s idea of the “New Man.” Oftentimes red-scare myths have created this notion that with communism comes the erasure of the individual self and their own expression. To spend the time diving deep into Fromm’s refutation of that sentiment was instructively pleasant. 

Fromm also included some great pieces from Marx and some letters that gave historical context to Marx’s own personality which I found illuminating. I loved the idea that Marx always attracted the absorption of children because he was fighting for their future. Details like his love for Shakespeare and his relationship with his wife were also gratifying in a time when great thinkers oftentimes have darker personal lives. 

This book was definitely worth $3.00, but I would recommend some sort of already established background in Marxist theory. From the moment I finished this book though and put it down, I have ever thought of this idea of an individual according to Marx, and I am moved to keep understanding it more, every day.