Oh, Just Lately

A lot has happened since I last wrote to you all. I finished my junior year of college with a bang and a flash— actually enjoying some of my finals which made it all the more special. Particularly, my favorites were writing about “Commodified Reenactments to Cure Terminal Trauma in Tom McCarthy’s Remainder” and an analytical and creative piece on the legacy of Tupac in Kendrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man” in To Pimp a Butterfly (yes I sadly, but perhaps more concisely, wrote this just weeks before Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers came out). My other Growth & Structure of Cities and History finals were methodical but satisfying. And since then along with feeling grateful for some of the extra awards I also completed a three day training seminar for my big fellowship that I am using to advance my research this summer. It was interesting to see that my project was inspired by a moment I had interning at the museum (which was inspired by a dream about a lighthouse) versus the subject of a paper or a class. If anything, it only solidified the idea that I want to get my PhD in English because hell no I will not stop learning yet. 

The day after I submitted my last final I honored my mom’s tradition of reading a non-academic book in one day. This time it happened to be The Backyard Adventurer by Beau Miles. I have loved his youtube channel for a while because his eccentric quirkiness where he develops these rich and nuanced stories from experiences and spaces we oftentimes or otherwise overlook is something I’ve actually found extremely relatable. While his comments sections often contained long winded accreditations about the creativity of the subjects themselves I oftentimes find myself thinking, hey I’ve had an idea just like that one before. His book was great, a little quirky in the grammar department, as I am myself. Here are some of the best passages:

“Then a chunk of dumbarse porridge gets caught in your beard and all of a sudden, the very act of adventuring and expeditioning becomes as routine as home life. A fork in the road, or a rough landing on an unnamed beach in a foreign country, becomes no more or less engaging than having your shoelaces tied by 06:45 in order to make the 06:52 express, putting you at your desk by 08:05 in time to drink your third cup of coffee by 08:30. You dramatise the hum-drum routine of making a particular train, to the point where it takes over your imaginations and desires, much like the tantalising prospect of paddling yourself to a coastline of coconut palms and few people had inspired you years earlier”

(28).

“Every time I drive from the city to where I live in the country, there is a moment in the journey where I exit the multilane highway in a perfect arch, slowing to a T-intersection that heads off onto a small country road. Everything industrial and fast-paced seems to instantly slow down and simplify in that moment. I feel the transition every time. Home is then 15 minutes away, up a small road with bends and cracked edges, where overhanging trees make it hard to make out water from shade or roadkill. I tend to take stock of things every time I re-enter home range. I count animals and inspect farmers’ sheds, wondering when or if the owners have seen that their east-facing hayshed has two sheets of iron missing on the southern wall. I watch trees grow and die, notice weeds that colour the paddocks in different unnatural shades every other month, responding to rain and the tilt of the Earth. It’s the best part of the journey as I pinball through the moving parts of my district, navigating towards the bells and whistles of home”

(109-110).

“I’ve often heard people say that taking a book on expedition distracts you from the place you’re in. Sure it does, but I can’t fathom how that’s a bad thing, it just loads you up with more comparse points to think about the very place we find ourselves. Animatice of words becomes an immensely satisfying story as the viewer of one scene and thinker of another. It’s a hell of a thing to have two hemispheres of brain conjuring two hemispheres of Earth, ail at water, dirt and sand”  

(196).

“Besides, I secretly love habits and routine, finding myself  constantly using one spoon and a particular cup, and wearing the same four pairs of undies on high rotation. Most of the stuff in our kitchen is used by Helen, or the occasional visitor, and there are parts of the couch I’ve never sat on. At work, running in the deep shade of a room on the wide rubber band of a treadmill with the fan on is utterly fine. My peeve with routine and repetition is therefore riddled with contradiction, resting squarely on my shoulders as a conundrum of perception. I know this”

(225-226). 

I also read Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour of Europe which was way too close to what I learned in my pre-modern Architecture class this semester but still a good read. I’m a fan of McCloud because of his awe inspiring television series Grand Designs, which is my second favorite show of all time. All four architects that he looked at were ones I did projects on in my cities class so it was definitely good to be reminded of their importance. 

The third book I just finished is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The gravity of this nearly 600 page book is going to take a while for me to fully sit with so a review is coming in the future but not now. I read it because all of the literature I encounter in my classes often references this extraordinary work and I knew I had to get to the bottom of this origin. 

And so now I’m just living day to day in the garden state until I head up to the Quietside for the next ten weeks. I know soon I will be completely enthralled in Ruth Moore and American literary regionalism only! So until then, I am trying to read those loose ends that I still desire and crave. Between planning for the fellowship, getting IRB handled, and reading these genre-bending, as creative as me types of words, I know I’ll be busy enough.

College Students who are Mere Capitalist Critics and Queer Platonic Love

Lately, I have learned to love to turn my noise-canceling headphones on in my room with my picturesque forest scape and an artificial green-pond moat. I exist within these four walls and in whatever sounds I choose and that feels like the ultimate source of comfort.

I guess there are two parts to this story. 

The first one is a call-out for all college-age students. I go to a liberal arts college, an HWC specifically. So yeah I guess it’s safe to say we’re all anti-capitalists here. But as I’ve discovered through my own journey to self-liberation— being merely an anti-capitalist is never enough. Yet when I challenge my peers they seem stuck at that resolution. Yeah, we know the character in this novel is unhappy because of capitalism but what’s the solution? And the moment I propose something, or I guess when I propose a Marxist-Leninist proposition which I’ve found to best suit what makes sense to me, I immediately get push back. In the same words of the Republicans and Conservatives, they claim to be smarter than, I’ve heard the exact same bullshit phrase “communism has never worked in theory.” And then I ask them how indigenous societies survived and thrived in egalitarian societies for thousands of years and were only ended when Westerners imperialized their communities. And that’s when the backtracking starts and the “of course I know that…” 

A big problem I have with my school but one I know exists at any liberal arts school is this idea that we are all upset about the same thing but not looking forward towards a solution. We complain anonymously and say we hate our college. But the second anyone tries to make praxis instead of joining in we start complaining about the change-makers themselves. And the majority of the students that push back towards ML solutions are students in the same classes as me who have the same access to materials and education that I do. But then they can say these grandiose condemnations with no issue. They listen to Malcolm, Huey, William Edward, and Angela on paper but in praxis, it’s a no.

How do we convince students to take that next leap? Well, some already have. It’s the students that live the realities where they are not forced to complain about capitalism but fight it.— battling against the inhumane effects every single day. They are the ones who are embracing the ML solution while the others around me would rather read the class readings they don’t even think serve a purpose in real life. Therefore, to me, it’s just telling of one’s privilege when I hear pushback. Those who have to fight it every day get it.

On a separate note, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article I wrote almost a year ago. “Doomed Love for Queer Youth”. With the emergence of shows like “Heartbreaker” on Netflix, queer love has been a point of conversation among my friends and me. But perhaps more optimistically than my reflections on teen love, I’m starting to see some positivity. I’ve realized that the more platonically queer friends I have to love, the more I start loving myself. As I spent one of our college traditions among my friends, the majority of which are queer, I realized that I felt safe. And it’s nothing against my straight friends of course, but something about the fact that my friends have faced similar struggles to me makes it easier. They know that we have deeper stories than our heterosexual comrades. They know our childhoods were even harder to survive. I guess Queer platonic love can save Queer people.

Pictured: graphic of Marx and Lenin

Believing in Yourself

I’m realizing that all those times I didn’t consider myself smart were merely shadows. Thoughts and reflections that follow you and copy you. That reflects your truest forms and simplest motions. I’d hear people tell me about the hours they stay up grinding and doing work and I thought that meant I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wasn’t going to get good grades like them. Yet it took a sign, an agreement that acknowledged my work from the outside to give myself that one sun ray of belief that I was missing. And all of a sudden I believe in myself. And all of a sudden I can honor my strange study habits and love for doing work in efficient increments in the morning. I can honor my hand’s stimming as I get excited about my new literary theory. I can honor wanting to get a Ph.D. and become a professor. All because that one ray of sunlight washed away my shadow and left a golden kiss of belief. 

Pictured: English House in Spring of 2021

Running Out of the Woods, Facing North

There is this vivid memory I have in my head. After my initial depressive shockwave that took over the entirety of my soul for the first two weeks of the start of the Covid19 pandemic, I was looking for an opposite feeling. And for a while, I found a tiny bit of that. While I did not know that though my position in society would move on, the pandemic and its perpetrators would not. For a little bit of time, there was nothing to do except to run. It was my one allowance outside the suburban walls of my house and pollen-covered grass that seemed somehow more green than ever before. And so I ran and I ran and I ran more than sixty miles for a couple of months before my chronic illness finally manifested into physical form as the stress of my world being turned upside down finally took hold. 

I’m running and I’m leaving the dense forestry of the Princeton Battlefield woods and trail. I’m surfacing out into the sunny field after cruising through the muggy and buggy treed canopies, I would run 6.2 miles that day. And as I face North back onto the field all I see is that lightness flooding over the green meadow that glistens and shimmers in the wind. I’m running out of the woods and I see brightness North and now when I remember that memory I see something else. Now when I close my eyes and clench my fists really tight I don’t see the old battlefield and itchy grass but I see all that my future has become since. 

That moment feels like just yesterday but there are countless things that have changed since then. Since I ran out of the woods I came out as a lesbian, I started seeing a therapist, one extremely unhealthy relationship ended, and another although healthy and beautiful one, forces me to grieve today. I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and then had the nerve to beat it. I became an English major and realized my love for architecture. I had a dream about a lighthouse and for the rest of my life that artificial light has projected a new future. I discovered my own little corner of the world in Maine and made friends with some old people. I loved a dog more than anything I’ve ever loved. I ran a half marathon. I started this very same blog. I became a writer, a Marxist, and a full-fledged comrade. I learned that my anxiety is overcomable. I led a team to the most wins in decades and found my voice on the court. I started taking medicine three times a week and sticking to my bedtime like it’s the bible. I traveled across the Atlantic and across state borders for vaccinations. I found words in maps. I told stories. I climbed mountains and mountains oh my. I swam in the deep, frozen ocean blue— and drove with the windows hand-cranked down. 

I faced one time when I was scared of my aloneness and then again. And it got easier. 

I am scared of my photos app.

I learned that love isn’t easy. I learned that love isn’t easy and it teaches you so much so at least for that reason, it has to be worth it. 

So now maybe I’m a hotshot. A fellow, a published writer. No, that’s not the point, not at all. The point is that in a second I’m back in that memory— coming out of the woods onto the Northern sunny field. And instead of the grass and the empty street, I see this. And I am old and my joints hurt and my heart is currently broken. And I have to tell people what happened and I have to tell myself what happened even though I don’t know what happened: that love is hard and growing up is hard and yet I am worthy of both. 

And that I want to teach.

And live by the ocean and be the real-life lupine lady that I read about in a children’s book and then met in person when I grew up. Make-believe can be real and I am a testament to that. Believe me, that run, that day, was something special. 

If North is up on a compass then does that mean I am evolving? Following my star? Each year and second getting better or accumulating material? I know I feel better and that seems good enough. But part of me misses that innocence when I ran out of the woods, facing North. How little I had yet to learn, how little I had yet to lose. I’m still waiting for the fog to disappear and the stars to come out to play. And even though I feel okay right now, part of me is still waiting for that North, little light, to come back.

Pictured: a random photo I took on one of my long runs. I must have liked the shadows from the sun.

The Mapper

There’s a picture from a children’s book I really like. It’s a landscape in a boy’s figure who seems to be flying over an otherwise solid color. I have dreams sort of like this except the exact opposite. Instead, I fly as an empty figure over a landscape or the gentle curves of a mass beneath me. In this book Neftalí, later referred to as Pablo Neruda, finds refuge from his smallness against his scary dad in things like poetry. 

Now I wonder what it would be like to turn Neftalí inside out so he looks like me? Every single night I am flying over the curves and ridges and straight lines and mountain tops and treelines of places I’ve been. If I am dreaming over the ocean then I can at least see the bend of the world curling away. 

During the daytime, I am thinking about Metropolitan London and the Shining Path and the Black Arts Movement and 19th Century Romanesque Architecture and gathering a bibliography of “Female Writers of Maine” and working on my short story “The Welfare Supervisor” and saving my relationship, and rotating through my four-cycle lifts for basketball, and this is just an excuse to plan out everything I am doing…

Sometimes I’m scared to fly in my dreams. Sometimes I dread falling asleep and being obsessed with remembering the exact spatial significance of borders. I’ll be put in this semi-familiar place and force myself to remember what tree sits on the right and what house is on the left. It’s funny because the places in my dreams have sort of been hijacked by themselves. I no longer return to my college or the island as they are in real life. I return to the dream versions, slightly different and perhaps more accurate reflections of how I would construct them. But every time I know where the new spatial elements are even though they are parallel universes from reality. 

I am a map.

Neftalí is the Dreamer but I am the mapper. 

If I could draw perhaps I’d try to visually appropriate it onto paper. But just as the world from reality to dream shifts entirely I wonder if it would too with pen and ink? All I know is rain and shine, I am mapping the real world and the realer world in my dreams and I can’t seem to stop. My fingers are tired of typing, I have tendinitis in my left arm from too much time at the computer working on those lengthy essays but I find myself on a Tuesday and humid evening trying to map out the dual mapped out universes that exist in day and night. 

I am a mapper

waiting to seize the map

I spatialize the questions

for which all boundaries and expanses

exist 

I choose no place

I choose every place

Come closer…

…if you dare.

Image from The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan – Illustrated by Peter Sís.

Monotony of Metropolitan Life and the Inherent Fluidity of the Natural

Imagine you live in two houses throughout your life. 

The first house is an old structure overturned by unkempt ivy and lush moss. It sits in the middle of a dense forest with a mountain view of a deep blue lake. You wake up every morning and go through your daily steps that usually lead to you leaving your house to enter the outside realm. And you cross your doorframe and step onto the soft earth underneath, your feet can recognize the feeling but have not memorized it. When you cross the realm the world around you is different every single day. Sometimes the earth below is muddy, sometimes it’s frozen hard. The trees that escort you out are sometimes full of leaves, oftentimes tall, and occasionally fallen. The sky changes colors too. From time to season, darkness to temperature, the nature around you is already dynamic. Your built environment is built by something that can never be the same and never be still. 

The second house is a newly renovated townhouse. The new version of the suburbs, the townhouse you live in, is part of city efforts to make a previously overlooked neighborhood seem hip again. Like in the other house, you wake up every morning and go through your daily steps that usually lead to you leaving your house to enter the outside realm. Yet when you cross that realm; to the outside, your feet are greeted with not just familiarity but memorization. Because the built structure, say concrete or some sort of standardized concrete underneath will not dynamically change and flow in a course of nature. Instead, it remains the same every single day unless nature decides to intervene. Say wood starts to rot or water from the sky creates cracks in the pavement. 

This isn’t an ode to living in nature or off-grid or whatever you want to consider. But this is considering how the monotony of metropolitan life is directly related to the literal built structure that holds our bodies. Beyond the obvious lifestyle differences between living in the middle of a forest or a field and living in a city or the suburbs, an additional realm must be considered. The dynamic constant change of nature means the physical interaction you have with your environment is different every single day. Like nature therefore, your own experience evolves to whatever the physical conditions become. Yet if we live in a sterilized and artificial environment that change cannot occur. Instead, life, therefore, becomes inherently stagnant. 

So when people ask me if I’d rather live in an urban or rural environment, I often feel like I have to explain that my answer goes beyond the usual explanation of aesthetics or overall feeling. No, for me, I feel that if I lived in a built environment that literally could not change as nature changes, that I would become completely dormant in how I live my life. And at least for me, the joy of feeling that I learn and love everyday; that each sunrise is an opportunity to grow like the trees that we hypothetically worship; for that feeling to be gone I would feel completely doomed. I would feel claustrophobic and fitted into boxes that for so long I’ve been running to escape. So for me it isn’t about where I want to live or how much beauty can exist in urban atmospheres, but where I can survive. Where I can grow everyday.

Pictured: The Oxbow Painting by Thomas Cole

A Brief Book Review: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

In a time where those other than you are filming destruction and not filming it, posting infographics, and not making infographics about others; in a time where the history of US intervention and murder is being blatantly ignored; I am choosing to write this. As I write, I am thinking about those in Ukraine, but also those in Palestine who go through this every day, those in Iraq who our beloved American presidents bombed. Those in the 70s in El Salvador who were just children when US troops trained them how to be soldiers so they could murder their own parents. I am not a saviorist journalist “so brave” to enter a country struck by war— when a country with brown people as its population has been needing coverage for decades. But for right now, I am not escaping twenty thousand leagues under the sea, merely providing a space to enter for those that need it. 

Verne is inherently flawed. And I have to recognize my own issue in this story. You see I found myself falling into the trap of this romanticized ideal of a new colony: that yeah, life on land kinda sucks and so maybe we should escape to the sea like Captain Nemo. That goes against everything I stand for. Nemo gives me Elon Musk vibes in a way: so rich he can go colonize another place because his bourgeois behavior had “inadvertently” created a hellscape on dry land. He speaks of it as if not only is he superior but that he is ostracized, he claims that he went into undersea exile after his homeland was conquered and his family slaughtered by a powerful imperialist nation. Occasionally he’ll do something that is supposed to make the reader feel sympathetic in his morality: help the pearl diver or give refugees money. Yet much like Musk’s occasional performative actions, I find it hard to sympathize with a man who is perpetuating their system of oppression by hoarding his wealth and choosing to not lead a revolution to create a fair system. The riches he has put him in this unbelievable position. You know who is ostracized truly: the proletariat, the global south, people of color in America. 

On a positive note, I am fascinated by The Nautilus. Perhaps it is because of my time spent aboard the Schooner Shenandoah: my fascination with little floating islands that are inescapable: a whole universe in a little section that lies on top of the ocean. Or in the case of this book: on top, in the middle, below, and in all realms. Self-sufficient once again I am taken back to this idea that The Nautilus and Nemo can separate themselves from the outside world: that they have the choice to do so; that is merely a privilege within itself. 

While I expected to read of my love for oceanic travel and deeply creative ecology (which I did) I was so caught up in this image of the hero. Perhaps I am all wrong and for Verne’s time, Nemo was truly radical. But just today I was reading José Carlos Mariátegui’s Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality and so all empathy I had for this rich reclusive man went out the window. This isn’t to say I wish Nemo traversed the globe’s waters in his Nautilus being the perfect savior and performance. I guess I wish his angst against the “oppressive force” that took his family would go towards helping no one else lose theirs. And as much as we can romanticize and imagine how easy it would be to escape into the sea after such a tragedy it is not fair in my opinion. Captain Nemo could have been a real hero if he hadn’t recused himself from society but instead used his brains, money, and resources to help revolutionize a better one. 

So to Captain Nemo and the heroes in global battles against oppression; from Nemo’s family to those in Ukraine and Palestine, let us not be neutral or reclusive. Let us educate and talk and use our resources and keep reading so that we can dream of a new world. So we can end these wars for a class war and create a society that is equitable for all. And at risk of sounding cheesy, let us do this so that we do not have to escape to a new colonized world under the sea.

Amir Locke’s Execution Mirrors Fred Hampton’s Execution by the Police and FBI

Another notification in the news about a black man killed by the police. Murdered out of the most innocent and vulnerable places the human body exists in; sleep. But as I was reading this story that exists every day in this country— where we’ve progressed from slavery to Jim Crow to police executions, I was reminded of a case that happened a few decades ago… The murder of the great revolutionary Panther, Fred Hampton. This reminded me of the tale I read in Jeffrey Has’ novel The Assassination of Fred Hampton. And so I went to the details of both cases and decided to start this comparison. 

In 1969 a police raid took place in an apartment where Fred Hampton and his pregnant girlfriend were sleeping. The warrant was for suspected “firearms” and so the police with 90 bullets executed Hampton. The orders were from the FBI as part of a “secret program to neutralize and destroy the Black Panther Party, which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover privately called ‘the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.’” Hampton was sleeping next to his pregnant girlfriend when the bullets ripped through his body. I guess giving free breakfast to kids was worthy of all ninety shots.

Amir Locke only 22 years old was murdered this week by police officers executing a “no-knock warrant.” Apparently, Locke was holding a gun under the blankets of his sleeping form; apparently, the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to those whom the Constitution first considered 3/5th of a human. You see, I believe all of us don’t really have a right to bear arms in this country because if one does, and he’s non-white, it guarantees his execution. Where’s the NRA when you really need them? Oh, and did I forget to mention that it wasn’t even Locke who they were looking for? 9 seconds is all it took for a sleeping Locke to become the newest victim of our white supremacist system. 

Something about the fact that both of these men were sleeping is what really gets to me. I think this is an even more violent relation of W.E.B. Dubois’ theory of Double Consciousness. That not only must the black man in this country be “‘always looking at oneself through the eye’ of a racist white society and ‘measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt…’” But he must also be wary of who is looking at him in a dreaming state. There is no escape from the reality of white supremacy in this country for the black American. Even when one can seemingly escape reality into a fantastical realm of dream and REM cycles, America’s true colors will still be murdering and executing. 

Fred Hampton was a threat in the eyes of the FBI. You know, the whole free breakfast and anti-racism thing that was so bad in their minds. But concerningly this country’s police-state has evolutionized to literally murdering any black man. This proves that to be Black person in this country means one’s Black existence is inherently political and socially determining. That even if you are not a revolutionary, you are still deemed dangerous in the eyes of our police. That existing as a Black person in this country is concerning enough for our state to take action. We say there is progress but then this happens.  

I draw the connection here today for the white liberals who are so shocked by this incident. This is not a historically new phenomenon and it never will be if we continue to uphold this system in this country. Black men will continue to be murdered, even in their sleep, and we will continue to be surprised and upset, but retreat back to the same privileges that we as white people benefit. Until there is a revolution and systemic change, there will be more Fred Hampton’s and Amir Locke’s and soon we’ll find out what name is next.

Reuters. “Amir Locke Shooting: Hundreds Protest in Minneapolis after Police Killing of Black Man.” The Guardian, 6 Feb. 2022. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/feb/06/amir-locke-police-shooting-hundreds-protest-minneapolis.

Roos, Dave. “The 1969 Raid That Killed Black Panther Leader Fred Hampton.” HISTORY, https://www.history.com/news/black-panther-fred-hampton-killing. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.

W. E. B. Du Bois on Black “Double-Consciousness” – The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1897/08/strivings-of-the-negro-people/305446/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2022.

A Brief Film Review: The Summit of the Gods

In the age of Tik-Tok’s quick, attention-grabbing effects on the minds of a generation who has been witness to new technological developments in media (far beyond what was ever imagined before) I sat down to a film that engrossed me like no other. I was already interested in that weirdly obsessive pull people have towards Mt. Everest because of the docuseries called Everest: Beyond the Limit. You can find it on Amazon Prime and for some reason it is this weirdly addictive rush of on-screen adrenaline that I’ve never found before. And even beyond Everest, my love for a good film in 2-D like the ones crafted by Studio Ghibli is a form of film I’ve started to appreciate more and more every day. This film though I realized is most relevant to my own interest in the storytelling itself. The writer used a story within a story, a sort of meta moment, to craft this deeply obsessive in nature, raw and engulfing narrative. This film is about the idea of someone trying to write a story about a story that tells a bigger story. The original idea is with Makoto Fukamachi who is attempting to write a story he first realizes might exist. The secondary story is the mysterious camera that might have belonged to George Mallory in one of the first attempts to summit Everest that ended in his demise (with no known conclusions of the outcome of the climb itself). And the third story is the tale of a climber named Habu who Fukamachi ends up following to discover the questions he seeks to find for his story. Only for Fukamachi to realize that the conclusion he was after, much like the ones Mallory and Habu climb for, cannot be discovered, conquered, or accomplished with one simple answer, a singular arrival at the top of the mountain. Instead, the time-bending narratives questioning why we exist, what the meaning of life is, and what makes us feel alive— these are instead the peaks that we summit as viewers.

So often we find ourselves in the running shoes that Fukamachi wears when he runs around urban Japan while questioning not only the story he is seeking to write but the validity behind it. Why as storytellers are we so often drawn to the obsessive, the addicted, those who have a blinding passion? Perhaps it is because we have that same fire in our quest to tell the truth? Or is it envy? Are we envious that people like Habu who Fukamachi seeks out, have this clear mountain quest in front of them? That while we have to navigate terrains of bureaucracy and never ending questions of what kind of story should we write next… That people like Habu have blinders on and instead trek up the mountain until their death. In the same way that his film created a juxtaposition between abstract landscape animations with raw and jagged mountain top edges— scenes of death and destruction but scenes of intense autonomy in the choice to attempt these adventures; in the same way that this film creates a new dimension where any binaries are destroyed by a snowy avalanche, comes a new medium. A new medium of story is what makes this film so special, one that examines the question of the purpose of life itself. So often in our lives do we question the reasons for our existence, but I guess it takes dangling from a mountain, or the chance of that, for one to truly realize their purpose. This is a film that looks at both a storyteller and his story: something that examines life’s biggest questions. Or, as Habu says,

“Some people search for meaning in their lives. Not me. Climbing is the only thing that makes me feel alive. And that’s what I did, right till the end. No regrets.”

In the same way that I wonder why Habu climbed to the end, I guess I could ponder why I keep writing? The answer is something we share in common. 

Little-Big Stories and Nikhil Anand’s Hydraulic City: Water & the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai

Sometimes we need to tell big stories with little stories or big stories with little stories. But first, let me give some context.

In the most challenging course I’ve ever taken, Urban Theory, my class was going to read Anand’s work before we ran out of time. Instead, I was left with an unopened text and most of the relevant knowledge I would need to decipher it from the course itself. I figured, why not give it a shot now while I still remember a lot of the lessons. So I did.

I told my girlfriend when I was about ¾ done with the book that I thought it would be better suited as a paper— that it seemed like Anand’s kept talking about the same niche examples of lack of pipes in “settlements” and how that related to Foucault’s idea of biopolitics, the overall inevitability of structural failure in neoliberalism, and the legacy of colonialism in the Global South. I realize I was wrong though. This book is perfect in its form and it was actually my own form which was imperfect while reading this piece. What I didn’t realize until the end was the idea I propose of the value of “little-big” stories. Stories that use little examples (pipes in a section of Mumbai) to really show the praxis of the theories we talk about in the classroom. As a student at a liberal arts PWI, how insanely privileged is it for me to not realize the bigness in this seemingly little story? Anand shows that big theory has big implications in what we view as little examples. 

Aren’t these the stories that we should be spatializing to the same degree as we do the work of Foucault? Instead of spending a big amount of time on theory and a little amount of time on praxis why can’t they be of an equal size? So I guess what I’m trying to say is in the intestine vastness of theory which takes of the majority of space in academia, an equally spatialized and large text from Anand and his observations on water and infrastructure in Mumbai should coincide. If I am going to complain about the repetition in Anand’s work then I should equally complain when reading the works of Foucault. For some reason, we are being taught to believe that some spaces deserve more room than others— a method that undoubtedly comes from the legacy of white supremacy in education.  

Bring on the pipes. Bring on those niche examples of the theory we study so closely. Bring up the real world, yeah, the stuff that really matters. Bring up the things in your everyday working-class life that truly mean something to you. If we as academics don’t care for it, don’t pay attention to it, and don’t value it, then we are continuing academics legacy in white supremacist-bourgeois values. 

I’m not super interested in plumping, pipes, or Mumbai’s infrastructure but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pay attention. I read all theory even though I am a true Marxist-Leninist at heart. So I guess what this book gave me was two lessons. One on the subject itself— a real-life example of the theories we study. But two, (yes I’m an English major) this lesson on value in stories. Little-Big stories like Anand’s need to be valued, read, and studied. If we ignore these tales then our hours spent at lectures are for nothing. This is where the connection that so many students claim to lack between their teachings and their realities exists. Today it’s pipes in Mumbai, tomorrow it might be the road around the block where you live.

Pictured: book cover