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

An Unremarkable Hum from the TV

An unremarkable hum from the TV takes up a different space in our brains. Not the part that you use when you’re talking to your mom about additions to the grocery list or the part you use when you’re chatting to your sister about how your day went. In a tucked-up corner, in the backs of our brains, we hear an unremarkable hum that never goes away.

It isn’t just the TV that does it. The notifications from our apple watches and iPhones buzzing breaking news from The Washington Post. This isn’t a rant against technology, at least not yet. This is though a commentary on the news we digest; and how it affects the feeling of what’s best. 

We read about breaking news from disasters that seem so innocently threatening. And they surely are. We read and even when we try to stop the hum, it radiates to the back of our brain. We never think that these dangers and fears are perhaps created by the same factor.

Breaking news about the war in Afghanistan, why are we fighting over there anyway? Breaking news about a hurricane’s increased strength due to climate change, what “global superpower” is doing nothing to stop our emissions problem? Breaking news about a school shooting, tons of kids dead, published by the same CEOs that are buddies with the NRA. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is how are we supposed to read about these problems when the problems are self-inflicted? No not by us, the proletariat, but by those at the top of CNN or Politico who have dinner parties with billionaires on the weekends every month. Why are we always surprised when it is “exposed” that the rich are corrupt and slimy? What I’m trying to say is there will always be breaking news that is heart-wrenching because those in power will continue to make crises for the working class. 

Michael Parenti wrote, 

“​‘But they don’t care about what we think. They turn a deaf ear to us,’ some people complain. That is not true. They care very much about what you think. In fact, that is the only thing about you that holds their attention and concern. They don’t care if you go hungry, unemployed, sick, or homeless. But they do care when you are beginning to entertain resistant democratic thoughts. They get nervous when you discard your liberal complaints and adopt a radical analysis. They do care that you are catching on as to what the motives and functions of the national security state and the US global empire are all about at home and in so many corners of the world. They get furiously concerned when you and millions like you are rejecting the pap that is served up by corporate media and establishment leaders.

By controlling our perceptions, they control our society; they control public opinion and public discourse. And they limit the range and impact of our political consciousness. The plutocrats know that their power comes from their ability to control our empowering responses. They know they can live at the apex of the social pyramid only as long as they can keep us in line at the pyramid’s base. Who pays for all their wars? We do. Who fights these wars? We do or our low-income loved ones do. If we refuse to be led around on a super-patriotic, fear-ridden leash and if we come to our own decisions and act upon them more and more as our ranks grow, then the ruling profiteers’ power shrinks and can even unwind and crash— as has happened with dynasties and monarchies of previous epochs. We need to strive in every way possible for the revolutionary unraveling, a revolution of organized consciousness striking at the empire’s heart with full force when democracy is in the streets and mobilized for the kind of irresistible upsurge that seems to come from nowhere yet is sometimes able to carry everything before it. There is nothing sacred about the existing system. All economic and political institutions are contrivances that should serve the interests of the people. When they fail to do so, they should be replaced by something more responsive, more just, and more democratic”

I was reading the January + February issue of Mother Jones (which is one of the better places to read about current events I guess). But I couldn’t help but feel frustrated when my watch would buzz as I was reading this physical copy with my coffee cup in one hand. The cycle of crises, something Naomi Klein talks about in The Shock Doctrine, will continue in our system. The hum from the tv, the buzzes on our watches, they will never stop because under our system they are not supposed to stop. The bourgeois wants us in a state of crisis, fear, and vulnerability because it is how they continue to hold their power. 

I am no longer fearful when I get a buzz on my phone or acknowledge the hum in the back of my head. Instead, I’m angry. I get a buzz that covid cases are shooting up and I am angry because the government has the power to have stopped this bullshit in the first place (like socialist countries in this world have proven) but instead chose profit over our lives. And even more than choosing profit they choose the state of fear and vulnerability for the working class. They want us down because that is how they stay up. 

An unremarkable hum from the TV exists in the spirits of all of us. Unremarkable because we are so used to it— man, we have to fight back. No longer will I sit down to read my Mother Jones magazine to try my best to read about true stories, only to be bombarded by more fear from the ruling class. The hum in the back of my head is slowly being disrupted.

Midwestern Marx Publication: Rejecting Alienated Labor for the “New Man”

Rejecting Alienated Labor for the “New Man”. By: Ella Kotsen

A piece I wrote for Midwestern Marx was recently just published. I would love if my readers here at SDS went and checked it out.

Telling the New Year and Jeannette Wall’s failures in The Silver Star

I remember reading Wall’s Half Broke Horses one sunny afternoon when I lived on the Schooner Shenandoah. Below deck, on my bottom bunk, an upwards-facing porthole that would leak salty water when we tacked too far provided me with enough natural light to dot on Wall’s words. I loved the book, reading it practically in one sitting— not running on deck when the mates above me were screaming that this was the best sail of the season. And I’m not sure if I’ve read her other novel The Glass Castle but I know I’ve talked about the plot with my mother. Regardless I had this positive picture of Jeannette Walls and her storytelling, so when I was gifted The Silver Star for Christmas, I was humbly optimistic. 

Before the ball dropped and the New Year of 2022 replaced old calendars with a hard-to-remember “21,” I finished reading the novel. After countless nonfiction books, I had been reading for school or my more theory-based writing, I was astounded with how fast fiction can be examined in my mind. In a way, that was a very freeing feeling. Yet this novel was somewhat of a disappointment. Nowhere near to the brilliance of her others, I found this story to be a failed attempt at telling a vernacular story of childhood. While there were no letters or documents, this book or any book written from the perspective of a child (in my opinion) had somewhat of an epistolary-novel style. As someone who too has explored the power in writing narratives from the unique perspective of juvenility, in my short story “Dear Jake,” and in my childhood-lit classes that looked at Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, the Brontë sisters, and works from African-American literature on childhood, I guess you could say I’m somewhat of a snob on the subject. I’m picky about what works and doesn’t, where the genre can get complacent and sketchy. I do not know if Wall struggled because this was not an autobiography of herself or someone in her family, because it is not my job to determine the trueness or fictionality of this story. Regardless, Wall gets lost in her narrative, and although the reader hopes for Bean and her family throughout the whole story, it is not a perfect narrative by any means.

How do we tell stories like this one? How do we tell the new year? I found myself asking these questions after I finished Wall’s novel while the ball dropped in Times Square. Yeah, I have my criticism of Wall’s work but how are my tales any better? How do I not only write more fulfilling and true stories of not only childhood but of the future? So as I sit here, early on in the grid-like checkboxes that exist in our calendar-based systems— I challenge myself to do better. I challenge myself to write stories that are un-fallacious and good. If I am going to write about the Beans in my life I better tell it. The responsibility that comes in storytelling is great and oftentimes not questioned. We challenge journalists and documentaries but how often do we challenge the premise of fictitious stories. It is up to us as writers, to write true stories regardless of fiction or nonfiction boundaries, to write real stories. Stories, dreams, spaces— they deserve to be conveyed in tales of truth. So while Wall’s story was good, it also deserves more. 
I promise to tell the New Year, or any story, with the utmost respect. That is my New Year’s Resolution. Cheers to over a year of truth telling on this blog and here is to many years more.

A Brief Book Review: Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton

*This will be a shorter review since I am also working on a publication for Midwestern Marx that involves observations from this book.

Malcolm X’s autobiography took me almost two months to finish. Newton’s autobiography in comparison took me a little under a week to finish. I guess what I’m trying to say is I found Newton’s writing approach really accessible, and though Malcolm X’s work arguably had more theoretical explorations, I found Newton’s tale to help my questions of praxis in many ways. I would recommend any young Marxist to read the both of them as I have. Learning about the Black Panther Party is something that many young Marxist-Leninists seem to skip over in this country which makes absolutely no sense to me. The Black Panther Party was the most successful Communist group in the history of this country and to ignore that as an ML is pure racist ignorance in my opinion. 

One of my biases that Newton’s autobiography challenged was my hesitancy towards the notions of “arming the proletariat.” I’ve always fundamentally agreed with that notion as an ML but on the surface level, I was hesitant. In a time where school shootings are common, I felt huge stigmatization towards anything to do with firearms. And this is where my ignorance comes into play. I, like the white people during the actual time of the BPP, didn’t understand the reason for firearms in the group. I bought into the racist narrative subconsciously that it was about loving guns and fetishizing their role. In reality, legal gun ownership for the Panthers was about using the rules of the oppressors to protect themselves from the oppressors themselves. It was about revealing hypocrisy, challenging the right to everyone’s supposed rights, and simple survival. 

Another concept that I found brilliant was Newton’s idea of “‘survival programs pending revolution’” which was the original articulation of what we see as “mutual aid” now. Newton wrote,

“A raft put into service during a disaster is not meant to change conditions but to help 1 get through a difficult time. During a flood at the raft is a life-saving device, but it is only a means of getting to higher and safer ground. So, too, with survival programs which are emergency services. In themselves they do not change social conditions, but they are life-saving vehicles until conditions change”


Much like Malcolm X, hearing the resiliency of a revolutionary so marginalized by white supremacy was awe-inspiring. As a 20-year-old college student, Newton challenges how I view my role in society. His perseverance in teaching himself not only how to read, but by forcing himself to explore these vastly complicated topics of anti-imperial and anti-racist theories, is beyond impressive. His deep understanding of the true depths in which capitalism and racism have been embedded in this country shows the most precise understanding of American problems that I’ve ever read about. His language was accessible and his message was clear. He fought off the fetishization of deeming himself a hero or celebrity— he truly just wanted all power to go to the people. Mostly though, I can’t help but wonder why most of us are not taught about his role. Newton’s theory and words are some of the clearest, if not most clear articulations of clarity in America’s problem with oppression. Why doesn’t BLM today use Newton’s words to guide them? Why don’t we teach about Frantz Fanon as much as we do Freud? Why don’t we reject the white supremacy embedded in what we consider everyday estimates of smarts: IQ tests, basic psychology? 

When you think of the Black Panthers do you think of violence or peace? Do you think about the ability for a black little boy to walk home from school unharmed, not harassed and violated by police officers, or do you think of gun-toting gangsters? Challenge your biases like I challenged mine. Read about Newton and Malcolm X, read their words, learn about the BPP. To not only Marxist-Leninists, but to anyone, Revolutionary Suicide paints the picture that in the past saved the lives of black individuals, but that can provide the framework to save the lives of future black lives. As Communists or as people who supposedly care about “racial justice” and being “anti-racist allies” your work is fallacious and wrong without learning about the Panthers. Hopefully, if we teach and write and expose the true legacy of the BBP, more Huey P. Newton’s will push forward and survive— creating a revolution in this country.

The Stick and My Hippie Grandparents

My grandparents were never like the others. My grandma shared a dark brunette bob like my sister and mother for most of my childhood— de-aging her for all spectators who had the privilege to witness our interactions. My grandfather, likewise, was notorious for scooping up our friends and putting them in funky places on the playground; all my friends loved when he’d watch us. And even since their origin as grandparents, they’ve been slightly different than others. We call my grandma “Sisi” because my sister and I who struggled with speech-based communication called “ice cream” “sisi”… when my mom hoping we would bond with our grandma told her she could feed us ice cream every time she came over— the name stuck. And Poppy, who has a million different nicknames from all his wild adventures, was equally good at bribing us. I remember trips to the local health-food store Whole Earth for oatmeal raisin cookies; letting my sister and I sit in the front seat of his hold pickup we felt like the coolest criminals ever.  

When my grandparents moved to their funky one-story just two blocks away from us, decorated in exotic furniture and artwork from all of their world travels, we began to see them even more. From kindergarten to the very end of fifth grade they’d wake up early, rain or shine, and walk us to school. The now five-minute walk seemed like a whole expedition back then. We’d cross neverending streets full of racing cars and monstrous trucks. We’d jump over cracks in the sidewalk, careful to not miss a single one as if they were bell-buoys guiding a ship in a foggy storm. Up the treacherous hill that might as well have been Mount Everest, we put all of our might towards getting to the summit. As we got older, our hairstyles changed and bodies began to feel different— pushing away stuffed animals and embarrassing hobbies we matured and cared about new things. But we always wanted the grandparents to walk us to school. 

Along the journey, just after crossing the four-way street with the help of our loved crossing guard Mr. Andy, was a set of manicured planted trees in front of the Municipal building for our town. It was there, where we’d stash our favorite sticks that we found along our journey. In our logic, hiding a stick among trees was the perfect camouflage— and the grandparents adamantly agreed with our position. Every day we’d walk by the tall trees and pull out our favorite sticks stashed between the branches. We’d hold them and admire their beauty as the most perfect sticks we could ever imagine. Then, we’d lay them back down among the branches still connected to their trunk and roots, telling them to wait patiently until tomorrow when we’d come back again. These sticks surprisingly lasted years. Every school day we’d stop and talk to them, making sure they were okay in all of the intense weather that seemed so treacherous. Sisi and Poppy would talk to them too, hold them in between their hands, and stroke their aging, splintered textures. It was their infantilization of these worthless stray pieces of wood that encouraged our continued empathy for their existence I believe.

That playfulness and empathy towards that which is otherwise ignored by the majority of society are some of the many traits I’ve inherited and learned from my grandparents. I remember hugging and naming bronze tiger statues on Princeton University’s campus that we’d explore after Small World dates full of ginormous blueberry muffins. I remember waking up early from sleepovers at their house and playing with foreign instruments they’d confiscated on one of their global adventures. But mostly, in comparison to other grandparents, I valued mine as my best friends. 

As we get even older and the shapes of our bodies begin to settle, brunette bobs inevitably fade to gray, climbs up Mount Everest become few and far between, I still value these experiences I had as a child. For me now, I feel in a position to be what they were for us when we were little: masters and wizards that could enable any fantasy to happen. I want to listen to their stories and let them relive that same fantastical joy they provided for us as children. And so that’s what I can do: listen and write. Document these stories before they are forgotten. 

Merry Christmas Sisi and Poppy.



Photo of Grandparents from about a decade ago

A Brief Book Review: The Voyage of the Sanderling: Exploring the Ecology of the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Rio by Roger D. Stone

In my infinite quest to find books about travel and sailboats void of the fetishization of colonialism, imperialism, or eurocentrism, I dove deep into this novel which I purchased in a quaint bookstore called Westsider Books in the Upper Westside of New York City. While Stone, who recently passed away this year, makes some good structural points and undeniably valuable ecological observations, he does lack in my opinion in contextualizing a lot of the issues he observes on a broader global-capitalist scale. For example, he speaks of the damage done in ecosystems from Reagan-era policies, laissez-faire based systems, and post-colonial ruins, but doesn’t link those issues to the larger image he observes. While on a personal level, the time spent looking at my two favorite spots Mount Desert Island (specifically Swan’s Island) and Tarpaulin Cove outside of Woods Hole MA was exciting and just the specifics I was looking for in a book like this— it was also technically fallacious. Being able to dive deep into the spatial geographies that only a sailing boat can encounter deep in the Caribbean provided me with a more specific understanding of the layout of the Caribbean than I’ve ever read about before. Yet where Stone fails is where he stops. He speaks of the legacies of colonialism and then ends his sentence. He summarizes the struggles locals are going through on specific islands and then stops his sentence once again. Or even worse, assigns it to some moral failing or temptation that must therefore make their failures their responsibility. While he possesses the framework to link the detailed observations he makes of the ecology and people he experiences with the violent legacy of a history of colonialism, he rarely draws them together. And while the idea that he was exploring Columbus’s first landing point might have merely been a geographical excuse to explore certain islands, marinas, and coves, he never educates his reader on Columbus’s true legacy. While I can assume that he knows the true violence, as writers, we must spend as much time engaging with our own personal interests in texts as educating our readers on the true historicity of spaces. 

I was really interested in the observations he made about local-based and driven protective initiatives and how he oftentimes found them to be more practical and successful than ones pushed forward by the government. But once again, he mostly stopped at that conclusion and didn’t continue to develop a theory onto why that crowdsourcing and mutual aid was successful. It could have been a great conversation on the need for governmental regulations on environmental protects… that in places that lacked governmental structure or infrastructure local communities have proven enormous value in creating informal self-guiding regulations… that these are practices we as white Westerners can learn from those that we have marginalized and that we look down upon… But he didn’t. He made assumptions on people in Haiti saying that if they could just resist Western influences they would succeed, rather than questioning the enormity of the Western influences themselves on individuals already marginalized by centuries of exploitation. Little racist slip-ups definitely dated this book but I truly tried to read past them because a lot of his ecological observations were fascinating to someone who knows less about that topic. Yet we can’t deny his presence as a white man intersecting himself into ecologies that have existed for thousands of years. How could his opinion of a couple of days ever match up to their embedded roots I wonder? Even when he referenced local experts he not once mentioned interaction with an indigenous person who might have an educated rooted in the knowledge of his ancestors rather than a Western educational degree. This perpetuated a sterilized narrative that scientists, especially those that observe communities that are not their own, continue to produce. 

In defense of Stone, he did make some good criticisms especially after his trip to Cuba when he wrote,

“If the United States can trade and exchange tourist with all sorts of Communist nations that are our deadly political enemies I wondered, why should it be that difficult for us to communicate with the Cubans on a basic people-to-people level? Surely we have more in common that the ivory-billed woodpecker, a large North American species long thought to have gone extinct but recently rediscovered in a remote corner of Cuba and of great interest to U.S. ornithologists”


Obviously, I don’t believe any Communist nations should be our “deadly political enemies” and that if we are to be enemies with anyone it should be countries that violate human rights like Israel or Saudia Arabia with which we have immense relationships. But that was a great passage where he linked culture and ecology— a thing I wish he continued in all of his observations. 

This book would have been truly valuable if it had been an orthography or written scientifically organized observations on the ecology of the Atlantic Coast from those that know it best: the local indigenous communities. Of course, he could have included his own observations but by not including indigenous narratives that would not only reveal the effect of colonialism on the environment but on the people existing in the environment, his accounts were inevitably inaccurate. Ultimately, stories like his will always fail unless they fight back against that white-savior, eurocentric, sterilized, colonizing trend of “adventure-tales.” While I picked up this book to read about a great sailing journey which I always love, and, the geographies of the Atlantic Coast that fascinate me to no end— I was frankly let down by Stone’s inability to address his own whiteness. This story wasn’t really Stone’s to tell. In my opinion, he should have used his privilege and his sailboat to record the stories observed by those who actually know the areas. That certainly would be a book worth reading. 

Pictured: book cover (only one image included because of lack of clear images available)