Documenting History: We Held a Murderer Accountable, Today.

Today the courts and a judge and a jury and the people who protested and got maced and beaten by the police, today was some sort of validation for that I guess. In no way is this a victory or justice. This is just an ending that won’t cause nightmares and PTSD. It won’t teach a whole group of young, black boys not to wear hoodies as Trayvon did. Today was a day where a murderer will have to face his actions. 

In my intense fascination to document history around me as it is going on, I find it important to note today. I want to be able to show the future generation what happened on April 20th, 2021, how hopefully this was the start to recognizing an extensive history of violent racism and systemic police brutality. Hopefully, a day in which the proletariat is encouraged now to come together and overthrow a system derived from slave catchers and cages derived from the fields. 

Today we honored George’s name. Tomorrow we still have to fight to honor Ahmauds, and George’s, and all the black and brown men and folks who are murdered by the police. 

And so we fight on.

This Post Was Going to be Selfish

This post was going to be selfish. I was going to write a long story on how I got accepted to be a part of the Midwestern Marx Youth League of Writers. A story of mine got accepted into my school’s Creative Writing magazine. Next Wednesday, I get my second dose of the Covid vaccine. I don’t want to write about that right now. 

I woke up thinking about Ahmaud Arbery today. I ran a couple of races this year dedicated to “social justice.” We’re encouraged to run to “end gun violence”. We’re encouraged to be quiet besides the sound of $100 running shoes hitting pavement and breaths that will never be systematically murdered. That’s enough, that’s all we can do, run and post an infographic on your story. Check it off your to-do list and go back to watching MSNBC at 9:00. Forget Ahmaud’s face, and Daunte, and George. Sit there in your white body, with your black square, and close your eyes to the reality of an existence being attacked by your own apathy. 

This isn’t an eloquent piece of writing that The New York Times would publish. Systemic racism described to fit the right fonts and a peaceful aesthetic. There’s a resolution in this fantasy of course and it involves the white liberal continuing to be… well, a white liberal. 

I have a book about Fred Hampton just sitting on my bed staring at me. Every time I read it I stop because I know I am guilty. Which of course, only makes my guilt more dishonorable and bona fide right? I must admit it took me a whole summer to get through Malcolm X’s autobiography. Sorry, I didn’t mean the phrase “get through” I meant read through, suffered through, looked in a mirror, and saw my own violence through. 

No matter how much anti-capitalist theory I read. No matter what mutual aid I participate in. No matter how much I isolate myself from the white-liberal, I am after all, no different. Inevitably in a week from now, I’ll be posting about my own accomplishments in a society that only runs for me, until the next shooting. I should call it what it is: the next murder of a black child. 

Is this what a stream of consciousness is? Or is this just a confession of guilt? I haven’t been able to write for this blog for a little bit of time. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Ahmaud. And that’s the concerning part, I’ve started to forget about the rest. The rest that I can distance myself from, the rest that I can’t so easily identify with that they no longer become my problem. I’m starting to forget and I’m afraid. I am starting to forget about Michael, about Trayvon, about Emmett, because today, Adam took their places. 

When you’re sailing a ship you quickly learn that a problematic system won’t do. Unless every line is in the right place, every man ready to raise the mainsail, every halyard set, only then will a ship dance across the water. We don’t have a ship let me tell you. We have an inflatable toy bobbing in an ocean with a rescue boat ten meters ahead saying we’re gonna be okay while we know we’re drowning. A lifeguard with a fear of the water. A fish that doesn’t know how to swim. Unless we get rid of this system in favor of a boat capable of supporting our weight our future is dire. We cannot continue being a capitalistic society. The lifeguards will keep joking around and we’ll just keep sinking. 

I look to the left of me and see sharks grabbing feet. People are being drowned and now I think at least I am lucky that I have this little bit of plastic between me and the sea. Sharks will keep on grabbing and incapable “lifeguards” will keep on laughing until we get hardwood underneath.

John Masefield wrote

“And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.”

And all I can do is work to dismantle this system. To get rid of the plastic and protect my friends from the sharks. To be rescued by a ship with strong lines and a sturdy deck beneath. 

Whatever this is, this is for Ahmaud, and George, and Daunte, and all the other black folks murdered by the police. I’m sorry.

A Brief Book Review: Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? By Mark Fisher

This book is sort of like the modern-day Communist Manifesto. Short, but every sentence carries a vastness of ideas, constructions, and theories that make your head spin. Much like parts about Capital stuck out to me when reading Marx, there definitely were some points that stuck with me more, although I do confess this book is one you must read more than once. Since Fisher’s words and sentences and ideas are extremely dense, instead here are some quotes that were oh-so sticky. (I will only write four quotes so that I don’t end up quoting the whole book itself)

“So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange. According to Žižek, capitalism, in general, relies on this structure of disavowal. We believe that money is only a meaningless token of no intrinsic worth, yet we act as if it has holy value. Moreover, this behavior precisely depends upon the prior disavowal we are able to fetishize money in our actions only because we have already taken an ironic distance towards money in our heads”

(13).

“Capitalist realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact… But what is needed now is a politicization of much more common disorders … Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the cast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people. And especially so many young people are ill? The ‘mental health’ plague in capitalist societies would sunset that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high”

(19).

“If memory disorder proves a compelling analogy for the glitches in capitalist realism, the model for its smooth functioning would be a dream work”

(60).

“Instead of saying that everyone – ie every one – is responsible for climate change, we all have to do our bit, it would be better to say that no-one is, and that’s the very problem The cause of eco-catastrophe is an imperial structure which, even though it is capable of producing all manners of effects, is precisely not a subject capable of exercising responsibility. The required subject – a college subject – does not exist, yet the crises, like all other global crises we’re now facing, demands that be constructed”

(66).

This book provides a straightforward answer to capitalism’s multi-dimensional problems. Yet in a way, the book is also a juxtaposition: it is so simply put which makes it so hard to understand. Since every word and sentence means so much, it is of its utmost value, it is easy to overlook its brilliance. In some sections I found myself thinking I could refer this book to the young comrade as a beginning text in their journey, other times I found that it was too early for me to be reading this book in my journey to liberation through education. So if you decide to read this book put on your reading glasses and be ready. Be ready to coast through a roller coaster full of ups and downs and moments that will hurt your body. Exhilarating liberation but also times of deep contemplation. 

In memory of the late Mark Fisher

Becky Tyler’s Eight Years as the Women’s Basketball Coach at Bryn Mawr College: “There’s Still So Much to be Grateful For”

I knew Bryn Mawr was the place I wanted to be about four months into 2018. Five months prior if you had told me I’d be attending Bryn Mawr College, I would ask you how do you spell that? Where in the world is it even? And it’s a historically women’s college?

Bryn Mawr was that perfect fit that they always tell you about, I had what you could call -the feeling- and logistically it made perfect sense. Most surprisingly, my basketball ambitions seemed plausible and the coach even seemed really nice! As I sit here writing this, a week away from turning 20, I am amazed by my innocence but in awe of my confidence. I didn’t think the choice I was making would lead me to come into contact with one of, if not my biggest role models in life. I didn’t think I would form an intrinsically personal and liberating relationship with my teammates. We’re bonded by basketball and school-wide tradition that has provided me with a literal family (I have a mom, siblings, and aunts now). Everyone asked me before I came here what it would be like to play on a team who would likely lose 20+ games in our season, I responded with the idea that as long as I was having fun it didn’t matter. And I wanted to believe that was the truth, so when I was proven right, I realized I had really found a home here.

Everyone knows Coach Tyler on campus. A couple days after I got accepted into Bryn Mawr, I grabbed some coffee in my hometown, Princeton NJ. A nice looking twenty year old came up to me and smiled at my Bryn Mawr shirt. She told me she had just graduated and that I was going to absolutely love it. We started talking more and eventually I explained that I was going to be playing basketball there too. I remember how she immediately smiled and said, oh you’re the luckiest out of all the athletes, you get the best coach. She’s like this tall, pretty model that I always see working out in the fitness center and all the other athletes wish that she was their coach. A good omen I suppose.

We have this ongoing joke on the team that if you have a bad day you just go to Coach’s office to sit and cry for a little bit. You tell her about all your life’s struggles and then you come out feeling a lot better. There are countless times where Coach has had to comfort her distressed, and oftentimes extremely sweaty players, but she never bats an eye. Coaching a group of developing young adults is one thing, caring for them on a deep and personal thing is another. Somehow, in times where we didn’t even know where we’d be living in the upcoming week, COVID has really hit us all, somehow Coach always had a way to make everything seem okay.

When I think about my own personal relationship with Coach Tyler the biggest thing that stands out to me besides her unconditional kindness and care, is the confidence and trust I know she has for me. As young women we’re already taught not to think highly of our skills and identities, and having suffered from the derogatory and occasionally manipulative coach in high school, my confidence in my ability to play the game of basketball was at an all-time low. With Coach though, that was never apparent. Coach never questioned the validity of my skill, she never questioned my work ethic or my capability to try as hard as I possibly could. Instead Coach used those times where I struggled, those times where my tears required a sweaty pat on the back, she used those moments of my vulnerability to instill a level of confidence and safeness I had never felt before. I know for a fact that I’ve turned from an introverted, soft spoken girl to a confident and opinionated person who isn’t afraid to take charge anymore. I very rarely question my skill because Coach Tyler as a basketball coach has taught me that life is so much bigger than the 91 feet of hardwood floor. 

That’s the irony. I feel like so many of the lessons that Coach has taught all of us apply to our lives off the court. Coach cares so deeply about not only who we are as players, but who we are as moral and ethical human beings. She cares about our significant others and is there for us when a parent falls ill. She checks in with us in times of social-unrest and discrimination, she holds space for those hard conversations and requires deep and intellectual investigations and educational experiences as a team. We have read books about segregation in college basketball and we’ve talked about the importance of taking a knee during the national anthem. We’ve had those hard conversations and we’ve challenged each other at times, we’ve challenged our preconceived ideas and notions to grow together as a family.

When Coach told us she had to leave Bryn Mawr I knew it was going to be tough. What I didn’t expect was the vastness and intensity in emotions that everyone on campus would be experiencing. Even those that had never met her were grieving her departure, and were supporting their friends who shed a couple tears. I feel that this is one of those situations where we won’t even understand the true scale of the impact Coach has had on this campus until she is gone. 

In my intense fascination to document history before it escapes our memories I realized that before Coach left, I needed to sit down and do this interview with her. In perhaps my last trip to her office I headed down to the gym hoping that no tears would come. As we talked about her time here it was obvious how much of an impact Coach’s time here has had on her. I like to think that Coach knows how much of an impact she has had on all of us.

When I asked Coach what her favorite memory here was, her first response was immediately about an ameautur player who scored her first points in a hard-fought game a couple seasons ago. This girl, like so many of us, must have found a connection with Coach, and even though she was inexperienced in the game of basketball, she wanted to be a part of the team. Coach told this story like she was retelling her own 1,000th point memory. She explained that when the player scored everyone on the team celebrated together. That unity is something that Coach has instilled on our team, a value I hope we never lose.

It’s been a tough year, it’s been a really tough chunk of time in human history. Yet Coach’s unwavering optimism in her view of the future of course remains high. Coach reminded me towards the end of the interview that

“There’s still so much to be grateful for”

I hope that as my teammates and I confront our uncertain future we remember that and honor the legacy Coach has left us. If we strive to not only be players, but be humans like Coach Tyler then I know our future is hopeful.

Map of the Day: Cusco/Cuzco Peru

Today my “Form of the City” class was picking and looking at maps. I picked a map of Cusco that (1572, Braun and Hogenberg, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, map I-58) that seemed relevant to a lot of what I am interested in. I’ve been to Cuzco and was fascinated with the juxtaposition between Incan/Andean architecture and Spanish Imperialized architecture. Most importantly perhaps the mesh between the two: the physical intersections were quite poignant actually. I enjoyed looking at this map and I hope you do too.

A Brief Story Review: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

This summer I read Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. Baldwin’s style of writing immediately stood out to me as extremely personable and relevant to this current day. His relationship with words and stories and sentences really put me in awe as a reader. I found myself re reading pages as I went, stuck in this smooth and enticing circle of words I didn’t want to escape. His character development was next level, afterall, he is one of the greats. I spent an evening listening to a talk by Christina Sharpe, and then my professor assigned us this story. I planned to just start it before dinner, and before I knew it I sat there reading the whole world, every word, full of the best and worst. Gulping and digesting quickly only to be surprised by a new layer of flavor. 

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in jazz clubs, jazz cafes, whatever you want to call them. I’ve been doing some great reading on stories from Harlem, Audre Lorde is the other name that comes to mind. This story though related to me more than any I had read before. These are my initial thoughts, I’m sure I’ll understand his themes and big picture points after we talk about it in class. I will say the point that stuck out with me the most was the relationship our narrator has with his brother is truly tragic and familiar and emotional and uncomfortable but so cozy too. Read about an algebra teacher in Harlem and a duplex that looks like the rest of them. Another man on the front of a newspaper and a big wooden structure with hammers and strings and sometimes ivory. Go tell it to your mom and dad, go tell them about Sonny’s Blues.

“I wanted to say more, but I couldn’t. I wanted to talk about  will power and how life would be– well, beautiful. I wanted to say that it was all within; but was it? or, rather, wasn’t that exactly the trouble? And I wanted to promise that I would never fail him again. But it would have sounded– empty words and lies”

The Little Girl and the Ever-Changing City

I wrote this for my Growth & Structure of Cities class called “Form of the City”. It resonated with a lot of my family members and I figured some of my readers here would appreciate it too.

In a small city, smack dab in the middle of the Garden State, lies a community of many kinds of people. In 1783 Princeton NJ was the provisional capital of the United States. Now lies a small city with a world-renowned university, a group of local “Princetonians”, and the constant stream of tourists who visit every weekend. A little girl has recently been granted permission to go “downtown” by herself, from her parents. This little girl has lived in Princeton her whole life, she’s one of the locals who lives in the shadows of the distinguished campus. When she was little her grandma would take her downtown to their favorite local coffee shop, Small World Coffee, wedged between an alleyway and an ever changing store lot. Most of the college students go to the Starbucks around the corner facing campus, so this spot is truly one for the locals. On special occasions they get ice cream at Halo Pub. Out of the three ice cream joints in town: Thomas Sweet is designated for tourists due to Albert Einstein’s love for the sugary scoops, Bent Spoon is too overpriced although very delicious, hence Halo Pub, one scoop for two dollars forty five is also another local secret. The little girl knows which crosswalk has the light that allows pedestrians to cross the fastest, but she also knows which side-streets are narrow enough to just j-walk unnoticed. She loves going to campus to look at the architecture, walking under the impression of stone fortresses. When she was younger she would pick a new tree to climb every time she went on walks with her grandma. For the tourists, her bff’s mom runs “ghost tours” where she convinces out-of-towners that there are spirits floating around in the dark. The little girl helps her sometimes, she knows the campus like the back of her hand so leading on eager spectators only seems natural. 

I have many names. Sometimes it’s children who give them to me, sometimes it’s the occasional tipsy adult who falls onto my back a little too hard. I am one of many on campus. Although there are many that look like me I like to think I am special. Nestled near the secret garden it usually only allows the dedicated campus-explorers the ability to find me. I am not as popular as those in front of Nassau Hall. Every year when the alumni come to reunions they get all the action. In the daytime pictures are snapped of the genius kids with their even-smarter parents. At night those same parents come back to relive the “best four years of their lives”. I am deeper into campus so I’m farther away from the hustle and bustle of the traffic on Nassau Street. I don’t get to see any cars, I don’t get to see the buses or the local dinky. I see people walking and biking and eating Jules pizza. When it rains all the finger-prints wash off of me, the water settles in the little indentations of my body. My face and back are fading into a different color from all the oily hands that grab at me, but I don’t mind. 

The little girl gets her hot chocolate from the nice barista at Small World and waits to cross from Witherspoon to Nassau. When the stream of cars roll to a stop, she crosses and enters the gaits of campus. In her mind she puts on her invisibility cloak like from her favorite book and floats around to explore. The little girl likes to escape the hustle and bustle from town to be on campus. In town there are so many new stores arising, new brick apartments that cost so much- her mother won’t even tell her the number. When she was smaller there used to be a lot of old lady’s with nice dogs, but now she sees more fancy people with suits talking quickly on their phones. Every year her elementary school classes get bigger and bigger. Her favorite neighborhood besides being on campus is the historic Guatemalan and Black community that lies on the edge of town. Her mom tells her that developers keep offering the nice people loads of money to knock down their houses. The little girl feels sad when she thinks about that, she imagines a world where the nice men don’t sit on the front steps talking about telenovelas, the mom’s inside making yummy tamales and her friends playing soccer with her at the local field. Already her mom points out the old, abandoned historic elementary school once for “colored children” that has been turned into apartment buildings where a bunch of young adults who wear man-buns and yoga pants like to rent from. She thinks how sad that one of her favorite places in Princeton might be destroyed, but at least for right now she is under the cloak of stone buildings and willow trees on campus that feel safe and protected. 

While a lot of people visit me I do remember some particular faces. It isn’t usually the college students that come to sit on my back like you would guess, it is usually the kids of the professors or those that call themselves “Princetonians”. When I was younger less people with big cameras and maps would come to visit me, but as time has gone on they seem more common. I hear men in suits walking past me quickly talking about their next construction or development project downtown. It has even gotten to the point where over the hundred year old trees I can start to see roofs peaking out, construction men far away building higher and higher. Although I try to remain optimistic and greet all the new people happily, I do miss the times when it was the same group of people who would visit me. Lately the weather has been really bad. It seems like in the past couple of years I am either completely baking under the sun, being flooded by a ton of rain, or being iced over by the cold. Sure, this has happened since the beginning, but it seems like recently it has been more extreme. Not to mention lately, people have been walking around with face coverings and hand sanitizer bottles that are sticky. Today though I see one of my favorite local little regulars coming up to me. She carries a hot chocolate from Small World in her hand and is walking from shady tree to shady tree.

The little girl makes her way through campus. Although not aimlessly, she does like to let the day’s mood affect her whereabouts. Ultimately though, she knows the goal of her journey. She arrives at her favorite part of campus. The little girl likes it here because it reminds her of the memories she’s made as she’s grown up. She thinks about how her grandma used to climb on top with her, how they’d both make roaring noises. Every year they’d measure her against it to see if she had grown taller. In the winter it is cold and can be almost sharp to the touch, but on a cool spring day it feels refreshing. Now that she is allowed to go downtown by herself she still loves to come here. She doesn’t feel scared of the new people in suits or the big brick buildings. She knows that it has been here for longer than them, and she hopes that it will outlive them too. She thinks about the community she loves so much that is being bulldozed over and wishes it was as sturdy as her favorite spot on campus. She feels sad, not knowing what in the world she could ever do. So instead of crying, she climbs up and sits down. 

Princeton is a growing city full of new stores, apartment buildings, and tourists. And if you’re lucky enough to visit it one day, you might just see a little girl sitting on a sculpture of a tiger, wishing their home would never change.

A Great Revolutionary was Murdered: My Time Learning about the Great Malcolm X

Reading Malcolm X’s autobiography was one of the most life changing texts I’ve ever been able to experience. Malcolm X to me became more than just a historical figure, more than a man you read about in the classroom (if you’re lucky). I spent a good amount of time savoring his narrative, I brought it with me to different places in the country, I brought his name up in conversation with different kinds of people. I read about Malcolm’s sister named Ella in the rolling hills of a small town in New Hampshire. I read about his time in Mecca while quarantine at home. What struck me the most was Malcolm’s willingness to learn, his willingness to educate himself constantly to understand the routes of systems of oppression. For the first time I could see myself idolizing someone who did not idolize themself. I read through Malcolm’s time believing what he would later reject, I read about the education that encouraged that rejection. 

Malcolm was murdered by the fbi, the police, the United States whatever you want to call it. But his legacy today I would argue is only becoming more and more poignant. While all the other histories just seemed to be putting bandaids on explanations of oppression routed in systems that would have to be dismantled, Malcolm knew that was the real problem. Malcolm was an anti-capitalist when his blackness was in-itself enough to end his life in violent performance. Malcolm believed in liberating all apartheids, all segregational societies, all systems of injustice. Malcolm knew the danger of the white moderate, he knew the danger of neo-liberalism in our culture. 

Eventually I asked myself what Malcolm would want me to do. I ran miles and I read books. I talked to people and I learned about their stories. I listen, I listen a lot more now. I write down what I hear, I don’t accept what I hear. I am courageous in what I choose to hear. Here is a girl or a person, whatever I want to call myself, here is a moment where I feel like I have a religion. An organization or a north-star of freedom. Malcolm X will forever be my greatest inspiration, to fight hard. To fight hard even when it hurts.

How To Be a Good Writer

1. Imagine you’re standing in a wild blueberry-bush. Thorns that are prickly, barefeet that are dirty, flies and ants, sun and water. 

2. Imagine you’re a spoon with garlic and honey, sliding down a semi- willing throat. 

3. Imagine you’re the stars on a different side of the world being visited for the first time by an alien of a different hemisphere. 

4. Imagine you’re sucking hard on an altoid while pulling hard on some weeds in the backyard for your mother. 

5. Imagine you’re a greenlight and a delayed reaction of a driver on a cold and dark late night with a moon that didn’t show up for the night shift. 

6. Peel an orange and discover sections of trauma, bits of good memories, and seeds of all that in between. 

7. Squeeze your toes and think about all those life lessons you’re going to tell your grandkids one day, plan your exaggerations in anticipation. 

8. Light a flame at the campfire but don’t let the smoke go after your throat, keep walking round and round until you beat it in a race you created yourself. 

9. Grab a notepad, a good pen and your glasses. Sit down, or stand, and think about the most wild tales one could imagine. Think about knights and castles and childhood innocence and feminism. Dismantle the system while writing about your life story that revolves around it. 

10. Don’t brush your hair if you just took a shower and it is rapidly drying there is no time! 

11. Create a list of how you’re going to approach your writing.

12. Ah, see I got it!

Pictured: Ella writing at Tarpaulin Cove

The Brontë Sisters, a Whole Lot of Reading, and Bernie Sanders

So I’m taking a class called “Reading Childhood Through the Brontës”. I felt it necessary to make it aware to the seven followers on here that my wonderful short book reviews would therefore be temporarily ending. I’m not going to write a review on the nine books I have to read for that class because I sort of already have to do that for the class itself. 

I’m really excited to jump into these books and to escape to worlds full of Jane Eyre’s. You know I recently had a healthy debate with my friends which has stuck out to me in many ways. We talked about the likelihood of a Sanders nomination in 2020 actually panning out to be a Democatic win against Trump. My opinion on this subject is that he would have won like Biden, perhaps even more impressively than Biden. There are lots of points I didn’t make during the debate that I am thinking about now (this always happens doesn’t it). The lack of awareness for political spectrums and parties outside of the US seems to be something some people don’t think about. I was also reflecting more on the role liberation and anti- bourgeois movements have had in uniting those of the left and right. But this is besides the point. The point I am making is I have these views because of the reading I have done, and lots of that reading has been reviewed on my blog for all of you. I’m grateful and proud.

You see while I guess I hope that books and getting lost in words will provide an escape, deep down I know it never will. I know I’ll always get pushed back to thinking about how that issue relates to something that is going on now; how I see my friend through a particular character. We might try to read to escape but we can’t forget that is why writers write. They write to figure out, to confront problems and experiences in their own existence. There is a book I have to read for the course called The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller. This introduction to the course has encouraged me to think more about that exact question: why writers write and hence why we read.

I’m going to be doing a lot of both this semester, and I’m really excited. I’ll try to keep posting things here, and I’m sure I will find creative ways to do so, but just know that I am in fact still writing. Still reading and escaping, still writing and exploring. Dancing hand in hand with the Brontë sisters, imagining a Sanders presidency, just trying to figure the big world out.