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think of the works of people like Jamaica Kincaid and now I wonder if the leeches in the lake have left because they’ve been replaced by the humans around it?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. 

Storytelling in Music: Lyrics that Tell a Tale

This post isn’t going to be a long-winded rant on my favorite artists, bands, and types of music. That would be an unnecessary harangue that is not appropriate at least at this exact moment. This post isn’t even about songs that have cool rhymes or a killer beat. I want to specifically examine songs that tell a tale, direct storytelling that goes beyond bigger themes and metaphors, rather songs that hover in the invisible, out loud pages of a book. A good book to be precise. 

The song that inspired this post is “Northsiders” by Christian Lee Huston. Although in terms of lyrical storytelling I must give credit to the verses of Brittany Howard, Shakey Graves, Florist, and specifically Chance the Rapper’s song from his tiny desk performance titled “The Other Side.”  But once again, if you want to discover more of my music taste I have a list of recommendations, this post is specifically about the dulcet words of Huston in his song. 

Maybe I like this song because I first heard it when I was losing the girl I thought I loved. My favorite verse is the second:

[Verse 1]
I was new in town, kinda goth
I met you in the science quad
You asked if I had any pot
We’re going up to Mikey’s spot
Covering important ground
I tried cocaine in my cousin’s house
Yeah, I’m probably addicted now
The things that children lie about
I didn’t notice it was getting late
You offered me a place to stay
We live up in the palisades
Tell your folks you ran away
Besides, you’re a Northsider now

[Chorus]
Nothing’s going to change it, pal

[Verse 2]
We were so pretentious then
Didn’t trust the government
Said that we were communists
And thought that we invented it
Morrissey apologists
Amateur psychologists
Serial monogamists
We went to different colleges
But you said that we would always be
Branches on the same old tree
Reaching away from each other for eternity
And you know I can’t argue with that

[Chorus]
Nothing’s going to change it now

[Verse 3]
We could have had one last hurrah
When I was working in the smoothie shop
But I couldn’t get the weekend off
She told me I was getting soft
I read an article about the accident
Probably reaching for cigarettes
And missed the brake lights up ahead
I hope it was an instant death
Sometimes I imagine us way down the line
Getting fat somewhere in the countryside
It’s crazy how things shake out sometimes
But maybe that’s enough magic for me

[Chorus]
Nothing’s going to change it now

Anyone who knows me can say that all those lines apply. So is it this blatant connection that induced my affection towards this song, or is it deeper than that? To be honest I don’t really know. Maybe like a busy, plane-filled sky I’ve been so used to a standard flight of songs about heterosexual romance that when this song came along it felt like a spaceship instead. Maybe listening to this song explain my newly developing communist tendencies, my Morrissey apologist posters in my room, my constant analysis of my thoughts with my new psychologist, my 2.5-year romantic break up with a girl who went to a different college; maybe it was as easy as that. Before I knew it the feelings I felt from the tips of my toes to the ends of my dry hair were romanticized into a beautiful song backed up by my orchestral echoes. And at that moment when I first heard this song, I knew that 

Nothing’s going to change it, pal

What I felt was not singular or lonely or isolated. Before I knew it I was listening to my story caress my anxiety away. In a new town, a new story in a new song gave me a new feeling of optimistic hope in myself. My feelings were validated in a way that felt beautiful. And at that moment, I knew

Nothing’s going to change it now.

Netflix’s Dark Tourist and the Myth of Ethical Tourism

Oftentimes we are aware of the unethical nature of something… yet to make the conscious choice to pry our eyes away can seem impossible. In fact, that is pretty much the whole premise of David Farrier’s show Dark Tourist. Farrier goes to different countries and regions in the world to explore the concept of dark tourism, although sometimes his concentration strays from the tourism itself and arrives at the actual content he is examining. As someone who is familiar with post-colonial studies and the brutal effects imperialization has had on countries exploited by the West, I do try to shy away from shows like this. How would you feel if your child’s naked body was being shown on a television show after they were systematically starved and tortured by your local government and the countries that gain power from economic exploitation? How would you feel if your country was summed up in the pictures of a disaster that’s legacy lies in the hands of a singular figure paid off by the CIA? Tourism, whether we like it or not, is a form of imperialization. And as someone who’s intensely interested in geography and geopolitics, it is also important to realize that these travel documentaries, magazines, journalists, these are people or organizations who also contribute to this system of imperialization. Yet it is so hard to find media that takes an anti-colonial and anti-imperial approach to documenting the cultures of other places that I often find myself embarrassingly checking Nat Geo or other groups that make money from the exploitation of countries that have been brutalized by colonialism. Perhaps this is my dark tourist moment.

I caved in and decided to watch Dark Tourists to see if this was finally a piece of media that was more anti-exploitation than the rest. While I certainly enjoyed parts of it, I am also writing this today because it ultimately wasn’t different. Whether it was casual moments where the word “communist” was automatically stigmatized and assigned to governments that were only in shambles because of the US government, or the poverty-porn of showing brown and black kids definitely without their parents’ consent, all of these were still present. There were moments like in South Africa where David didn’t push back at the violently racist people he was interviewing. And while it is undeniable that this is part of David’s strategy, to let the viewer see how blatantly wrong some of the people he was interviewing were, have we not learned through history that it is these moments where we cannot remain quiet? Silence only enables these groups. While we as viewers might understand their malice, how can a white guy like David not even push back a little? There are many other moments of immorality that happened but to not take up all of my time I will reference Sophie Gilbert’s review in The Atlantic linked here. She goes into the specifics of what moments fall flat and sums up my overall point by asking:

“Is that what dark tourism is? An opportunity for thrill-seeking, cash-privileged Westerners to feel better about their mundane lives by trawling through global hot spots of genocide, catastrophe, and authoritarianism?”

I also think a huge flaw of this show lies in the storytelling itself. Oftentimes the ethos of this show gets lost. While the principle of this show is to highlight places of “dark tourism”, David is often sucked up into the concept of the places themselves. Instead of examining why someone would go on a tour about a serial killer, David examines the serial killer himself. While this is certainly interesting, it gravitates away from the show’s premise and can make the overall cohesion fall flat. And while there is nothing I like more in a show than a routined pattern of events, 40 minutes was never enough time to examine the three different destinations David explores. While I applaud the show in their efforts to show a variety of places, I would rather have deeper connections be made with fewer locations. 

David’s show reminded me in some ways of the late Anthony Bourdain. Yet where David falls flat in my opinion, is in recognizing the legacy of imperial brutalization, especially in his field of study: tourism and/or imperialization. This was a show that could have that difficult conversation but it didn’t. As much as I learned some great things I couldn’t help but think that the average person who perhaps isn’t extremely educated in post-colonial studies would unquestioningly trust David’s statements which were oftentimes western generalizations. I hope if there is a second season, David addresses this primary concern. 

Lastly, this show begs me to question not only my own role as a tourist but my own role as a writer who is intensely interested in geopolitics. How do we tell stories of cultures and places that have been brutalized by imperial powers? How do we change our perception of a white-washed way of morality? At least, after watching this show, I have been forced to ask myself these questions.

Storytelling, Fred Hampton, and the OG SDS

I just finished reading a fairly long book called The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas. I received this book as a present and remembered hearing a good review on how this book illuminates the historical context behind the FBI’s role in the political assassination of Hampton. Beyond this complex and detailed history though I also impacted by the role of storytelling in this text. 

What Haas cited and brought up himself so many times throughout the novel was Hampton’s power in communication, in how through his words he was able to communicate to all groups of people the Black Panther Party’s message. Multiple times in times of systemic discouragement, we see Hampton’s successors rise because of his legacy of the will to push forward. Haas offers a unique perspective. As a nonblack, Jewish identifying young man, his experience was already extremely different than the late young revolutionary. Yet I found the perspective of one of the lawyers that fought for Hampton to be incandescently large. So often when we hear stories about fighters like Fred Hampton we are forced to confront how deep and systemic the embedded powers are that viciously murdered him. Hampton’s death isn’t the case of one wild individual’s moment of rage, although you could argue that most moments of cataclysm are akin to broader things too. Hampton’s story is perhaps the clearest example of a system of power that made the choice to murder an individual. And although Hampton is famous for his line:

“YOU CAN KILL THE REVOLUTIONARY BUT, YOU CAN’T KILL THE REVOLUTION.”

Undeniably, the influence behind his death was multifaceted and deeply embedded in the power structures that rule this country. Hampton’s assassination story becomes innumerable by Haas’s political, legal, and systematic knowledge of the rule of law’s clutches on our capitalist, governing institutions. Beyond the moral atrocities, Haas displays the role Hampton can show us in understanding the Untied State’s constitutional laws, government, prison industrial complexes, policing institutions, and Jim Crow/slavery legacies. This then makes the reader not only think about the moral tragedy behind the assassination of one of our best revolutionaries and young man but behind the power structures which enabled it. This is why Haas’s storytelling is so poignant. 

Lastly, the acronym SDS came up in a couple of Haas’s more specific details of his account and I was inspired to learn about my predecessor. So this post today is in honor of the OG SDS: Students for a Democratic Society which on their 1960’s archived website states that they:

“[were] the largest and most influential US radical student organization of the 1960s. At its inception in 1960, there were just a few dozen members, inspired by the civil rights movement and initially concerned with equality, economic justice, peace, and participatory democracy. With the escalation of the Vietnam War, SDS grew rapidly as young people protested the destruction wrought by the US government and military. Polite protest turned into stronger and more determined resistance as rage and frustration increased all across the country” Click here to check out the archived site. 

That’s all for today folks. Power to the people.

The Different Textures Feel Me Grow

About six years ago I started running more seriously. What first started out with slow two-milers evolved into even slower five milers, and then slow 10ks, and then fast 10ks, and then semi-paced half marathons. My love for running doesn’t come from the need to exercise or “stay in shape.” As a college-level basketball player, the training that would help me caps out at around mile number two when it comes to running distances. I don’t run to be the fastest or to win every race I enter. I run because it’s one of the only things that make my body feel completely whole.

My uncle once said that the best runs are the ones with the most textures. He’s completely right. Now mind you I’ve been on some pretty fun runs. A seven-mile route around an island in Maine, up a mountain in New Hampshire, around Amsterdam’s socialist housing projects in the Netherlands, a 5k completely in my Tevas to prove they’re the best sandals out there. My favorite run though is in my own backyard, one that I’ve been going on for six years now, one that I cannot escape. I took my uncle on this exact route one misty Princeton morning. Depending on a couple of detours or alternate routes it ranges between a five to six-mile run, most usually 5.2 miles is what I like to settle with. I took my uncle on this run and after we finished I could tell he was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t through beautiful forested hills, or across shiny, sparkly creeks, but the textures underneath our feet were infinite, and that honestly sufficed for the both of us.

These infinite textures feel me grow. 

There’s so much literature and theory about the act of watching someone or something grow old. I wonder what it’s like to feel it. 

I run on the sidewalk and the tan concrete underneath feels a girl evolve from skinny and finicky to filled-in and stable. I run on the patched-up Jersey roads and it feels long frizzy hair evolves into a more tamed version. I run on the dewy grass and the moisture soaks up my compulsory heterosexuality and spits out a confident lesbian. I run on the University’s winding paths and it feels me no longer getting lost in its twists and turns, rather following this new compass I feel between my ribs. I run on the fine gravel in the secret garden and the flowers feel me moving my lips to different styles of music, as the years go on I don’t get any better at learning lyrics. I run on the bridge across Washington Road and the structure feels my sweat dripping from my brow, my tears dripping from my eyes, my spit salivating out of the corners of my mouth, I guess some things never change. I run under the shade of the chemistry building and the concrete blocks feel my sore joints constantly pounding, confidently pounding, commemorating all the pounds that came before. I run past my high school, my new school, and then my old school, and then my former school, the sidewalk underneath me starts to differentiate the feeling of my feet from the thousands of other teens that traverse it daily. I guess eventually it’s forced to comprehend my adult feet. I run down the hill on Terhune road if there are no cars. The ground feels me sobbing and breathing and sometimes dry heaving. And then when I stop, it feels the endorphins, and satisfaction, and reflection. The ground and textures underneath me know more about me than I really do, or so I believe. The different textures feel me grow. 

Some people like to measure their growing height on the side of a kitchen wall with a ruler and a sharpie. Sometimes it’s hard for me to feel my growth, even after I go on a long run. I do however know that the textures underneath me can feel my growth. Every time I decide to run, to take long strides, to almost fly across their terrain, I am growing.

Frankenstein’s Creation and My Own Creation of a New Self

Perhaps this title is somewhat misleading. I haven’t created entirely a new self per say. Instead, a self that is new because of its liberation from the bounds and restraints from an older identity and version. When I set out to read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, my goal was to inform myself of her literary power as a newly declared English Major. You have to read the majority of the classics, right? What I didn’t expect to happen was a deeply resonating connection to form: one separate from the majority of themes and symbols scholars take from this text. Knowledge, secrecy, family; are the themes that your senior year English teacher would force you to write a five-paragraph essay on. What I soon became witness to or as I buried my nose into my small and intimate copy was a tale that reflected my own recent events and forced interrogations. As I have newly been liberated from a two-year-long relationship, graduated from my sophomore year of college, been forced to reckon with changes that have broken up my intense love or perhaps just reliance on routine; these are the moments my body has been forced to confront. I saw this creation of a new self in Frankenstein’s own creation, but I also saw the results of a creation that was created poorly. Frankenstein’s creation was created with the motive of scientific discovery and coldness that cannot be mixed with the fragility of humanity, desire, or simply the worldly feeling of validity in a human-created society. A society that regardless of our own monstrosities, cannot be escaped from. While I have not created a new self, a new being, I have been forced to evolve into a body that sometimes feels foreign. This foreignness is something that they do not talk about when they warn you of heartbreak or the task of growing old. 

They do not warn you that when you start to understand the systems that govern our human-based society that includes intense oppression and the violent power structures from those that are wealthy: they do not tell you that when with the education you liberate your questions of morality, that when your liberation comes you will feel like you have moved into a new body. 

They do not tell you that when someone you love becomes the enemy, grabs your affection by its horns, and smashes it out of a window you thought was gale-force winds proof, they do not tell you what your new, post-relationship body will feel like. They do not tell you that as you grow old and learn how to drive comfortably on the interstate that your newly adopted adult muscles will feel oh so different from your ones developed in youth. They do not tell you that in your new body, your old one will feel foreign occasionally. 

Shelley wrote: 

“Even where the affections are not strongly moved by any superior excellence, the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain. They know our infantine dispositions, which, however, they may be afterwards modified, are never eradicated; and they can judge our actions with more certain conclusions as to the integrity of our motives”

(202).

And now I am realizing that even more than my childhood friend, my childhood self is becoming a witness to this new being. Do I like it? I think so. I know my infantine dispositions are rooted in myself and even my new body will inherit them. But I also know that those dispositions have been plagued by the events and extraordinary moments that have happened all so recently. To me, that is exceptionally powerful, and at least for right now, feels okay. I feel okay as Frankenstein right now because my new creation is still part of me. I am still part of it. I have created a new self but my old self has not been forgotten. I didn’t create this new beginning out of scientific spite, I created or rather evolved into it because I had to. I don’t think late, contingent, creations will turn into Frankenstein’s monstrosity (or what is usually described as monstrous, although one could debate the validity of that declaration). I think I have been ready for this evolution for a long time.