In 1975, Ursula K. Le Guin named the pitiful norms and dominance of othering, blind cultural superiority of men writing science fiction books in an essay called American SF and The Other (pages 93-96 in The Language of the Night).
It’s amazing how pervasive and entrenched this white male complex is:
In general, American SF has asssunmee a permanent hierarchy of superiors and inferiors, with rich, ambitious, aggressive males at the top, then a great gap, and then at the bottom the poor, the uneducated, the faceless masses, and all the women.
Such notions of self and character development enable rape, belittling, disgust, and false senses of supremacy.
If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself—as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation—you may hate or deity it; but in either case you have denied it’s spiritual equality and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And this you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.
These last two sentences are intriguing because they distill what happens when men orient by wanting or having power over. It is a position to prohibits us from getting reciprocity or being able to benefit from learning, and prohibits us from being able to benefit from the experience, wisdom or wealth of others since the experiences and knowledge and resources of others are not seen or seen as only serving some pre-conceived idea of how others will be KF service.
“For millions of years, [humans] spoke only to what [they] could see. Suddenly, in one decade, ‘seeing’ and ‘speaking’ have been separated. We think we’re used to it, yet we don’t realize the immense impact it’s had on our reflexes. Our bodies are simply not used to it.
“Frankly, the result is that, when we talk on the phone, we enter a state that is similar to certain magical trances; we can discover other things about ourselves.”
This in a story set in Paris in the 1914 — after the Exposition Universelle (nee World’s Fair) of 1889 and before World War One.
A few, notable passages from previous pages include:
“A nice cup of coffee will salvage the rest of your day.”
“Maybe you’re looking for things you haven’t yet found…. And suddenly life turns into utter boredom.”
A dear friend was in the emergency room twice and made a call to 911 yesterday. Enabled by corporate health insurance as we wade and drown through a medical peonage system that tars and feathers and sullies us all when we seek to live. Or in the proximity of the ER, seek and hope and pray to stay alive. Or at least, those who love us and we are in touch with to know of an episodic venture to and fro a hospital and brinks of death.
I learned of these medical immersions a day after we exchanged words about the joys and bizarre inane of fatherhood with two children. Becoming a parent is more than double the fun. More than double the work. Double the pee, doubled the poops to supervise and scrutinize when not cleaning derrières and scraping diapers.
Fitting that poop thoughts leads me to how we live so precariously, always a few steps or select circumstances, largely unseen, from death. We are fragile like an eggshell and salad greens and fragile like the bud that becomes the flower that morphs into the unripened fruit that becomes the fruit that will perish by spoiling in short order. Fruit may be furthest from death when it is hard and unripened, which makes me wonder if we are furthest from death when our bones are more pliable and bodies are limber in some span of the early years of childhood. We are such fragile beings walking and waking and eating and defecating upon the Earth’s crust.
I don’t take for granted that I will see friends and family members when I travel away from them or they travel away from here. Rather, I cannot hold the probabilities of all who will live and who will die in the window of some unknown amount of time — be it months or years — before I see them again.
From more than 3,000 miles and three hours separated by the international time zones, I offered some ceremony later today once I am home. I don’t know what combination this ceremony will be. One certainty will be to name some blessings and gratitudes before dinner. One option will be to pull out one of our favorite books at home, Byrd Baylor’s I’m in Charge of Celebrations (ISBN: 0689806205), illustrated by Peter Parnall and published in 1995 by Aladdin Books. For all the baking and recipe swapping that I’ve done with this friend, I ought to bake, if not tonight, then something sweet and delicious in the next four days. And to find some laughter and be in charge of such laughter so I know that I’m doing so ceremoniously.
It is not just the proximity of his death, but the tender, vulnerability of all of these living things that constitute this plane and this world and this word as I know it through my current belief systems that i am reminded to celebrate and offer love and truth to today.
But suddenly the racial interest … felt like a kind of corruption to me.
Never has the perversity of racialized thinking been so clear as when it is being applied to a newborn baby.
Says Danzy Senna in page 165 of her memoirs, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.)
Something for me to ponder. To sit with. And to revisit.
The corruption of being aware of race and being fixated with race in ways that were preordained many generations ago. There is some naïveté to not knowing or pretending to not know one’s history of the histories of a place, of people, and of things. But, that compulsion to pursue and understand becomes a cycle of attempting to know and analyze the world through some lens crafted by ancestors, both ours and our oppressors, that illuminates and also distorts like mirrors in a funhouse. What may be shameful one decade can be empowering in a different mirror. What looked too broad at one moment may become just right in other circumstances.
Starting a new book by Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (Haymarket Books, 2019) it opens with some beautiful writing summarizing current events and social movements and political moments of the past decade. In pages 1-9, I am struck by the following metaphors:
Building a structure;
most important are the most subtle.
A million tiny steps;
Delegitimization of the past and
Hope for a better future.
New clarity about how injustice works … Makes it recgonizable when it recurs, and that recognizability strips away the
Disguises of and
Excuses for the old ways.
It’s the substructure of beliefs that
Shape politics, that change begins on the
Margins and in the
Grows toward the center.
It’s the pervasiveness that matters most.
We live inside ideas:
There are so many fabulous sentences in “Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks”:
The title essay of this anthology is about the struggle of new stories to be born, against the forces that prefer to shut them out or shout us down, against people who work hard at not hearing and not seeing. (7)
This is a time in which the power of words to introduce and justify and explain ideas matters, and that power is tangible in the changes at work. Forgetting is a problem; words matter, partly as a means to help us remember. When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and that the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analyzed and argued and shifted our assumptions. (4)
Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and hte roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightens, because there is more change to come, more that we do not year recognize that will be revealed. I have learned so much. I have so much to learn. (5)
Despite the backlashes — or because they are backlashes — I remain hopeful about this project of building new cathedrals for new constituencies (9).
You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus what is. (3)
Amnesia means that people forget hte stunning scope of change in recent decades. That change is itself hopeful, as evidence that people considered marginal or powerless — scholars, activists, people speaking for and from within oppressed groups — have changed the world. (6).
The opposite is falling into the nightmare that is also such a powerful force in this time, the nightmare of white supremacy and patriarchy, and the justification of violence to defend them….. I call it a nightmare because it is delucional in its fears and its fantasies a of grandeur and its intention of making decades of changes evaporate, of showing new ideas back into the oblivion from which they emerged and returning to a past that never existed. (8-9)
We live inside ideas. Some are shelters, some are observatories, some are windowless prisons. We are leaving behind some and entering others. (3)
We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within — or, rather, many overlapping structures. (1)
The consequences of these transformations are perhaps most important where they are most subtle. (1)
By “naming” a microaggression, a concept Sue borrows from Paulo Freire’s seminal work,Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we are able to undercut its power and expose metacommunication behind it.
I’ve had mixed feelings about microaggressions for years, yet the article provided me with some new perspectives of how to name what happens with ignorant interactions and how to deal with them, leading me to conclude that this was an opportunity to practice confronting the petty bullshit that white people spew and do in the faces and over the days and lives of people of color.
Simultaneously, I have been doing work this year where a big piece in the group dynamics work is to “name the thing.” Having to practice what I am preaching, I sent the “portrayals of Blackness” email in order for me to name to one white mother how whites — in her family and in the world — need to figure out how to talk about and tell stories about whiteness, family histories, and experiences with race. And when I say race that is shorthand for racism and racial differences and race-based consequences be they in school, in workplaces, or in society.
I had toname the thingfor myself because to not do so would be to placate and accommodate ignorant, hurtful conduct. I was deliberateabout writing how this other parent’sbehavior was racist as well as name some of the larger implications of racism and the heftof what it is to be Black in the United States; though, Icould have said Black in the world, but that would have been a bit too meta and likely abstract for a white person that I had never had a conversation about race beforeWednesday’s email.
I made a clear request forcorrective action and also asked that they let me know of their choice. I made that request not assuming that they woulddefinitely respond or even acknowledge my missive. On Thursday, I did get a response from the husband saying two things: that the correctiveaction had been done and that Ishouldnot (maybe it said never) contact them again.
I was not looking to make friends with the other parent. If anything, I was undercutting power by exposing what was already in the internet. And I was practicing for my own liberation. And for the liberation of my descendants, both blood and chosen.
Over the last 18 years, the Internet has been a boon for my reading. I still choose paperback and hardbacks, and I increasingly choose books from the public library rather than abebooks.com. I have made buying a book from an independent bookstore a simple act of selecting a sweet gift for a friend. (And, no, I don’t buy books from amazon.com as it cannibalizes the industries of writing.)
This morning, I had a fascinating 25 minutes as I sought the name of a young adult science fiction book that I read a couple of years ago. I could remember the name of one of the supporting characters, Dikeagou, because his name is a familiar and repeated name in our home. But, the book’s title escaped me. And so teh internet searches began (mind you through duckduckgo.com where they don’t track and store your searches like they do over at “do no evil” google).
It took multiple searches, and a few marvelous stops along the way that are sure to stoke my reading this winter are:
Best Sci Fi Books with Female Main Characters, a list of hundreds of books on goodreads. I didn’t find the book I was searching for in the first 100, and opted to not click on to the second page. But, I am pumped to know about this treasure trove and portal to critical lit.
Three days into NaNoWriMo yesterday, and I took a moment to see what the world wide web would provide when I asked about outlines for writing a novel. I encountered these three sites, which I have borrowed some elements of:
It immediately made me appreciate the next generation. The next generation of people, not just the people who will follow me as successors in previous jobs or children, but of many other sorts. The people who will serve on boards and as volunteers in places that I have. The person who will till this soil in future years will be influenced by what attention or neglect I show this soil that I inhabit, for this brief window of time. The home that I reside in can be better or worse depending on my actions and treatment of the people and things around me.
I was raised with the adage of leave something better than you found it. Being alive in the final 22 years of the 20th Century, I was exposed to much of what had run amok in the behaviors and habits of western civilization. Attitudes and lifestyles that were stuck in a notion of separateness from all other beings, and divorced from the earth. My hunch is that Mother Earth never sought a divorce from humankind, so it was a one-sided choice (and this is where my metaphor expires). Yet it seems to me that the earth has this unconditional love and infinite patience to embrace us, whenever we come around to recognize that ours is a mutually beneficial arrangement. We are fundamentally different when we see this instead of pretending that we, humans, are better alone.
This attention of the investment of my actions, words and choices cannot be nourished through consumerism. When I walk into a mall or browse a webpage catalog, my actions and choices on this day will not have some impact cascading into the future. In fact, the severe limit of shopping and buying is that it will more likely have an adverse impact on future generations than be an investment in the good, the well of future generations.
This consideration of future generations is another form of mindfulness.
A friend described us as being “lanterns in the darkness.” A day later, I read the MLK quote:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Our two lanterns of love find their own way in what was once a land or sea of darkness. In the darkness, there was an abyss that delved far beyond a rabbit hole. I was freed from the trappings of logic, and encountered a greater freedom than I had ever known. A sense of freedom that was always there but required that I put down so much of what I had learned.
Instead, I have steadied myself in a place of slower life. Less frantic translates into more grounded, and better able to listen. To increasingly note when my attention wanders moments after active listening. I return to listening and being present just by noticing and letting go.