the twit


    poempost: some dogs (fragment)

    between rains, some dogs
    beside the road: a cloud of orphans--
    delinquent notice to feed
    the withering gods.


    belated guestpost 2: frederick douglass

    in the wake of the obama election, and in some ways intertwining with my transposing rhetoric post, my dear heart douglas ray sent two textual moments my way. here's the second:

    "Frederick Douglass"
    When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
    and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
    usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
    when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
    reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
    than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
    this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
    beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
    where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
    this man, superb in love and logic, this man
    shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues' rhetoric,
    not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
    but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
    fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
    --Robert Hayden

    belated guestpost 1: jim bond

    in the wake of the obama election, and in some ways intertwining with my transposing rhetoric post, my dear heart douglas ray sent two textual moments my way. here's the first, with d ray's voice sputtering about:

    I. Apéritif

    I love the excitement of a proposal – it’s simulated entrepreneurship for poet / academic. So here’s one for Harper Collins. Or FSG (Oh to be published by Lorca’s publisher! Aye! Wounded Lilies! Sweet dahlias! Flourish the zithers! My orange heart!):

    Dear Smartly-Clad Sirs,

    For three months, I will practice, religiously, the sortes Vergilianae. But not with Vergil’s works – funeral pyres are not for me. A Mississippian, instead – Faulkner, Welty, Morris, or Percy perhaps. The Moviegoer as guide-to-life is workable. I’d probably go for Williams, though. John Waters could write the forward. Mark Doty could blurb me. Oprah could review me. Gail could edit Oprah.

    Undersexed Underpaid
    Oxford, MS

    P.S. SASE enclosed for your timely reply.

    II. Meat of the fruit

    Faulkner isn’t my usual election day reading choice, but this year I was reading a brilliant article about the “erotics of the gap” (!!!), “an ethically, not ontologically constructed homosexuality,” and “a coming-out historiography” in Absalom, Absalom!. We’re queering the canon, making queer canons, and queering the history of canon-making. But, I felt the need to review the novel a bit before delving into the article. The final chapter (9), I remember being super-charged with the erotics of narration (erotics of confesston, I suppose). I ran across this gem and exploded in the margins:

    “Then I’ll tell you. I think that in time the Jim Bonds are going to conquer the western hemisphere. Of course it wont quite be in our time and of course as they spread toward the poles they will bleach out again like the rabbits and the birds do, so they wont show up so sharp against the snow. But it will still be Jim Bond; and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings.”

    A. Context in the novel

    Shreve (Shrevlin McCannon) is talking to Quentin Compson (of The Sound and the Fury fame) in their dorm room at Harvard. It’s 1910, and they’re trying to piece together the mysteries of Sutpen’s Hundred and an experience that Quentin had in Jeffererson with Rosa Coldfield (Faulkner’s representation of a providential view of history).

    This passage is the final one of the book – (leading to Shreve’s famous question – “Why do you hate the South?”), and it seems all too prophetic…Old Testament-ish, like the titular reference to King David’s cry for his son. Jim Bond – slackjawed and oafish – is the son of Charles Bon (who fought with the University Grays and died in 1865) and his black wife.

    B. Resonance

    What Shreve imagines is akin to the picture of SimEve – Time magazine’s rendering of generations of interracial breeding in their Fall 1993 issue on immigration, which casts the United States as the “World’s First Multicultural Society.” Of course, one need look no further than Time magazine covers again – for the face of Shreve’s prophecy made manifest – President-elect Barack Obama (he, like Jim Bond, performs a mixed-race identity). What’s fascinating is that, in Absalom! Absalom! in which he grapples with history more than in any other in his oeuvre, he ends with this flourish of foresight.

    III. Gratias Tibi Ago

    Well done, Bill. Kudos to you, Shreve. You were right: this didn’t happen quite “in your time” – just 99 years later. Pop the prosecco!


    poempost: a quarter dilemma (fragment)

    i am done with vision;
    time to stand by this pond
    and let a branch reach
    out of the water and point:

    across many waves,
    at many leaves.


    transposing rhetoric

    last night,
    "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
    "And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright-- tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope."
    "And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land."
    "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there."


    photopost: new england wandering (parts 2-5)

    part 2: amherst walk + drive

    in the heart of fall, when the air has the quality of vodka--good vodka--that's been left in the freezer for a long, long time. a place where i can have absolutely nothing to do and be content for days. also, the land of good beer.

    part 3: the kitchen cabinet band practice

    a detour to the city. made it in time to hang out with mikey's band. stuffed in a columbia dorm room and unplugged except for the bass. beautiful people + beautiful songs.

    part 4: nyc to providence

    woke up at 8am on john's birthday. every intention of leaving in time to make it to brown for lunch. then, the realization that i hadn't closed my tab at the club we were at last night (where, strangely enough, moby was the dj). had left to walk an old friend to the train, with all intention of returning. had not returned. a morning/afternoon of wandering chinatown, soho, little italy in search for a bowtie for john. ended up with mugs depicting chinese erotic art and a bag full of other treasures from a grocery store eerily similar to one i frequented in beijing. then, to john--on his birthday.

    part 5: brown

    simply, epic. a poem to follow. these pictures are from the peripheral moments of a maelstrom.


    photopost: new england wandering

    part 1: stang's wedding

    a rare collection of odd & beautiful creatures; loves that i had forgotten. pictures before and after the ceremony/reception, which is a debaucherous blur.

    i have fragments for a lake placid poem, but they're not coming together. strangely, i can't get over the image of these particular railings on the roadside during the drive up and back.
    these roads have beautiful hips:
    ochroid railings, low and sturdy;
    nothing like the floppy-eared,
    directionless steel i'm used to--
    punctuated with concrete blocks
    and Midwestern cities. no, to be
    a runner in these hills must require
    a conversation with this railing,
    appearing and disappearing quietly,
    modestly hugging you away from
    the adirondacks, their hoary birches
    and vagrant ponds insatiable.
    and so on.


    crcl + jfp + wwirr = mlp

    1. the intro:

    the media literacy project (mlp) issue of the jackson free press (jfp) went to press this week (or whatever the phrase is that implies that the thing is on newsstands right now). i'll do very little explaining here, as the mlp members do a better job explaining themselves (which is, of course, the point). bottom line:
    The Media Literacy Project-- a collaboration between the Jackson Free Press, the Jim Hill Civil Rights/Civil Liberties (CRCL) club, and the Winter Institute-- is a youth-led agenda to analyze the pathways through which Jackson Metro youth get into local media.
    2.the thing itself:
    • the cover
    • "eyes on the machine: jackson teens cover the media": bryan doyle (former winter institute intern, current jfp music editor, and coordinator of mlp) discusses mlp's methodology, observations, and suggestions to local media.
    • "editors speak up": editors from local media outlets observed by the mlp respond to mlp's conclusions/suggestions
    • "screw friendship bracelets": hope owens-wilson (murrah h.s.) reflects on the project's genesis and development
    • "yes we can": ambrose tabb (jim hill h.s.) discusses the history (and future) of the jim hill civil rights/civil liberties club
    • "the mouth of babes" : sarah rutland (murrah h.s.) responds to the rhetoric of local elected officials toward youth
    • "intentional bias": spencer bowley (formerly murrah h.s., currently princenton) analyzes media responses to two local youth-related tragedies
    • "now what?": general suggestions from the mlp on how local newsmedia can better serve the community in their portrayal of youth
    • "lessons learned": bryan doyle reflects on his experience coordinating the project
    3. fixing a hole in CRCL:

    at some point this past february i was at the willie morris library in jackson for the third jackson-area consensus gathering meeting for the then very preliminary stages of exploring the possibility of a statewide truth commission in mississippi (we're now at a slightly less preliminary but still very exploratory and consensus gathering/dialogue initiating stage). sitting next to me was donna ladd--editor-in-chief of the jackson free press (jackson's free alternative newsweekly)--whom i'm always happy to run into and with whom i'm always happy to chat/dream about youth activism in jackson. it goes like this: i admit (as i often do/did) that perhaps the single biggest failure of jake & my handling of crcl was that we could never pull off substantial summer opportunities for the members; both years we'd get a student or two into the fannie lou hamer institute summer program or set up a handful of internships with the ACLU, but by and large couldn't scrap together anything that would pass as a sufficient bridge between the ending of one year/version of crcl in the spring and the beginning of another in the fall. then, donna mentions that while writing for the villiage voice she covered a media literacy project done by students in the bronx who looked at the portrayal of youth in the new york times, and that she'd always wanted to do a similar project in jackson. fully aware of the fact that the ratio of getting-excited-about to actually-happening is rather low when it comes to interesting projects/confluences like this, i let the idea stew around for a the rest of the spring semester.

    then, a couple of things converged, moving a jackson media literacy project from the wouldn't-it-be-nice column to the make-it-happen column: (1) i finally pulled together a weekend retreat for the crcl members in which we could spend significant time reflecting on the group's history and planning for its future; (2) it became clear that this retreat would be a great venue to bring donna in as a speaker, where she could talk about internship opportunities at the jackson free press, her idea for a jackson metro high school journalism association, and float the idea of the media literacy project; (3) a graduating winter institute intern, bryan doyle, got hired by donna to be the music editor of the jfp, and--as the free press job alone wouldn't pay the bills--was wondering if there were winter institute projects he could help with over the summer to help him transition to life in jackson, (4) when donna spoke at the crcl retreat--with the media literacy project now the major focus--jim hill students provided a personal and tragic reflection on the portrayal of youth in local media: the clinical/dehumanizing depiction of alfred hawkins, a jim hill student fatally shot earlier that year, put in contrast to the humane/sympathetic depiction of three madison county teens who died in a car crash around the same time.

    so, we arranged for bryan to work half-time for the winter institute for the summer, and donna graciously provided space, flexibility with bryan's time, and a handful of jfp interns/staff who would assist in the project. then, bryan and i spent a few weeks envisioning/revisioning an approach to the project that would provide for significant ownership by the participants and also ensured enough structure for macro/micro analysis of newsmedia; writing, editing, structuring articles; conducting interviews; research and data analysis; and critical engagement in local issues and local media. then, on june 7, bryan, lara law, rob bland and i sat down with some crcl members and area high school students and put the vision and the process in their hands.

    now, four months later, the results of the media literacy project have been printed as an issue of the jackson free press. the cover story, the editor's comments, columns and articles--all filled with the products of youth engagement and critical dialogue. in her article, "mouth of babes" sarah rutland notes "it should not be a surprise to discover that there are youth just itching to discuss the direction of their peers and the city, and adults who find themselves wanting to listen." while reading that i can't help but be filled with a saccharine tingling in my arms and a quickening burn in my eyes. though it was long ago that i stopped being surprised by discovering or rediscovering the willingness and capacity of youth, i think i will never stop being impressed, never stop being inspired, never stop being compelled to put the world in their hands.

    4. some of us are visual learners


    poempost: the universe brought me a martini

    the universe brought me
    a martini--

    rainwater, ozone,
    pieces of leaf, something

    grace in a glass


    photopost: MS state fair 08

    camera's been getting action recently. here's another attempt at re-imagining the possibilities of this space (re: another false start). a couple of retroactive photoposts to perhaps follow.

    context: free biscuit; cow named "dream"; $20 margarita; beautiful people who give me hope for marriage, make therapy less necessary, ride the rides; other things carnivalesque


    approaching an afterword

    amidst a tumultuous summer, picking away at this piece of writing went a long way in preserving my sanity. as my boss is back from sabbatical and as water seems to be finding its level, i'll rekindle the occasional hope that i find a more frequent context to write (setting myself up for the requisite guilty inertia felt thereafter).

    in any case (
    verbal jigging; ms. roth: insert fuss ), this began as an afterword to a book being pulled together by my friend foster dixon (a HS teacher in birmingham, though he's recently moved so he may be a HS teacher somewhere else), and--while still ground in the book (entitled aftermath)-- it turned into an unexpected excuse to consolidate my erstwhile scattershot coming to terms with moving to MS, working at the winter institute, engaging in race and identity, etc.

    while i'm certainly excited about "aftermath" being published, and do hope that my afterword is include in some form, the text belongs here as well. whatever here is.

    (reminder: most references to "this book," "the texts," and unexplained people are in the context of the as yet unpublished manuscript for the aftermath)

    (also: be gentle, sister ray)


    I’m not from around here. Not from the South generally, and not from Mississippi in particular. I spent my youth and adolescence in the nearly ahistorical, neatly anonymous, and vastly white suburbs on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, and my college years in the academic, intellectual, and free-thinking playground of western Massachusetts. As I write this, I’m now in the midst of my fourth year in Mississippi—my tenure mostly spent shuffling between the Old South pastoral of Oxford and the New South tangle of Jackson (with significant jaunts in the Delta, the Coast, and the Pine Belt). While I possess a sincere and growing affinity for the communities I’ve come to navigate and negotiate while being here, it is nevertheless true that I did not grow up in the South, did not come of age in the South, and—in regards to the internal calculus of identity formed within the crucible of very specific history, culture, region, and conflict—I am not, and perhaps will never be, Southern. However, this is all (and can only be) a process of coming to terms—of identity unveiling itself as far more complicated than a matter of choice or assimilation. I don’t know if being Southern is up to me to decide, really; I don’t know if it’s up to anyone to decide.

    So much (perhaps all) about identity—not only regional identity but race, gender, sexuality, class, and so on—is absent without context, especially that initial context of difference: establishing and understanding some as us and some as them. In my experience of the South, the regional us/them difference still holds profound and at times central weight, even in those rare moments when Southern identity is not an implicit commentary on racial identity and racial conflict. That being said, writing this afterword (and being asked to do so with a special consideration to my non-Southernness) is like producing a very detailed transcription of a conversation that I’ve had to engage in, or at least anticipate, nearly every time I meet someone for the first time down here. Any you’re-not-from-around-here moment has its requisite follow-ups, which I’ll deal with in their usual order:

    How did you end up in Mississippi? In the abstract, I came to Mississippi because for quite some time I’d been interested in the way things like race, class, gender, sexuality, power, democracy, and community intersect, interact, and inform within the framework of educational institutions—particularly in regards to quality of service and equity of opportunity. In the concrete, I came to Mississippi to teach math in a public high school in Jackson—and came here as a member of the Mississippi Teacher Corps: a two-year, alternate-route teaching program funded by the state and run through the University of Mississippi (known to many as “Ole Miss”). I certainly understand that aspects of what I just described may pique some suspicions; a nervous reminder of ideas like Yankee, carpet-bagger, outside agitator, liberal, intellectual, colonizer, missionary, adventurer seems to haunt the periphery of any moment in which I’ve been prompted to explain myself. In light of this, I should be clear about the critical reasons I came to Jackson, Mississippi (and not Cleveland, Ohio or Montgomery, Alabama or New York City, New York or Los Angeles, California or the Rio Grande Valley in Texas or the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota) to engage in education and educational issues. Quite frankly, at the time the particular program that the Mississippi Teacher Corps offered was more attractive to me than the other programs I was looking into. There was also the impetus to teach in a less urban context than my previous teaching experiences (Manhattan and Beijing)—but this succumbed to the irony of my teaching placement in the only legitimately urban school district in the state (most of my colleagues in the Teacher Corps were placed in the Delta). So, in case you’re wondering, it was not because of some misguided, romantic fascination with/criticism of the Deep South that in May of 2005 I walked off of the graduation platform at Amherst College and into a U-Haul that I would drive directly to Oxford, Mississippi, where I would start an intense two months of teacher training before finding myself at Jim Hill High School with 147 students (all African-American), no textbooks, and only the most naïve notions of how to help young people figure out how to solve linear systems; I did those things because I wanted to begin my commitment to thinking about education (and race, class, gender, sexuality, power, democracy, community) in America, and Jackson, Mississippi, was as good a place as any to start.

    Why did you stay? To put it simply: I like it here. I love the work I get to do and the communities I get to work with. I should disclose, however, that while I’m still actively engaging in issues of education, I’m no longer doing so as a high school teacher; now, this engagement comes by way of educational issues related to racial identity, intercommunity dialogue, and truth and reconciliation. That is, I now work as a Project Coordinator for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation—an institute based at the University of Mississippi that serves the state and region, seeking to equip communities to heal their own wounds and citizens to heal their own communities. Nearly all of the projects I work on are related to education—mainly in the realm of youth inquiry/dialogue groups, education resource development, and education policy. In regards to my reasons for not staying in the classroom after my two years of the Mississippi Teacher Corps, that’s—as Foster Dixon put it in the “Introduction”—“a whole-nother-story.”

    Born in 1982, I’m at the younger end of what Foster refers to as “Generation X” (if I’m a member of it at all). However, I am also two-to-three generations removed from the common Civil Rights era, and I’ve certainly spent plenty of my adult life trying to make sense of my identity in the context of race, class, and history. So, in many ways I share Foster’s premise and situation: there is the generation who experienced life under segregation and the end of so many laws and practices that characterized the institutional manifestation of white supremacy, the generation that grew up in the direct and immediate effects of that change, and now a generation or two (or three) living in the aftermath: pushed from behind by historical amnesia and pulled from the front by the post-racial promise, all the while having a hard time making sense of crumbling, all-black public schools; restaurants that refuse to or are reluctant to serve; crowds calling for the lynching of a black homecoming queen; and terminal degrees that are in some ways reliant on the (continued) existence of a poor, uneducated, non-white working class raising other people’s children, washing other people’s dishes, and doing other people’s laundry.


    When I tell people that I work for an “institute for racial reconciliation,” I’m (understandably) often faced with at least a moment of incredulity: nearly everyone feels compelled to ask, “So what exactly does your institute do?” Well, (and this answer satisfies no one) it depends on the community; there’s not really a set list of things that we do or services we provide, nor (if you’re going to ask the nerve-racking follow up) is there a set way that we measure/define progress. The Winter Institute does not go into a community unless invited to do so, and when we go into a community we defer to local people’s leadership in determining the most important legacies of racial identity and conflict in their community and in deciding how to best engage those legacies—whether in the context of an issue that has racial conflict at its core (e.g. the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner), or an issue that is ostensibly unrelated to issues of race but whose progress is impeded by historical or contemporary fissures in local race relations (e.g. getting a sewer system installed in Rome, Mississippi).

    I mention all this because no matter where we end up with communities, we almost always start in the same place with them. In reading the essays in this book I was drawn again and again to that place—bringing a diverse and representative group into the circle, and helping them to start talking with each other. For the Winter Institute, this generally requires two critical phone calls. First, a community member from somewhere in Mississippi will call up the Institute saying that fixing race relations in X-town is long overdue and it’s time to get serious about it, or that something happened in Y-ville thirty years ago and it’s been holding the community back for too long, or that there’s some issue in Z-burg that folk can’t seem to find common ground on—but for reasons grounded in community divisions unrelated to the issue itself. I’ve seen my boss and mentor, Dr. Susan Glisson, on the line with this first phone call a dozen times. She always responds in the same way: “OK. Go out into your community and pull together as many different voices as you can. Especially the voices that you feel may disagree with you on this issue. Gather community members, local leadership, young people, old people. Agree upon a place and a time to meet, and call us back. Then we can talk about how to best proceed.” The second phone call is rare.

    When we do get a call back and we do come into a community to facilitate a meeting, we always start with a process we learned from John O’Neal, a SNCC field secretary and co-founder of the Free Southern Theater, Theresa Holden—O’Neal’s longtime collaborator at Junebug Productions and the Color Line Project—and Curtis Muhammad, also a SNCC field secretary and one of the first local Mississippi youth to join the Movement. We sit people in a circle, share some simple ground rules, and ask everyone to respond—from their own experience—to the following:
    Tell a story about the first time you realized that race was the “elephant in the room”—something that everyone noticed but no one talked about, something that was big, and there, and affected everything despite our best efforts to ignore it.
    Most important to this process, called a “story circle,” is the fact that the facilitators insist that the participants reserve all cross-talk until everyone has told his or her story. No challenges, no corrections, no follow-up, no commentary; all of this can (and is encouraged to) take place once all the stories are brought into the circle, but until that time everyone is asked to tell a single story from their experience and asked to simply listen while others do the same.

    The essays in this book are a powerful reminder of how using personal narratives of “elephant” moments as a springboard for reflecting upon the legacy of race and racism in our lives and communities is—quite simply—obvious, natural, and common. Perhaps this is why people are so unsatisfied with my response to “what exactly does your institute do?” Essentially, the only thing we do in each community is help people talk to each other; after that, it’s up to the community in regards to how we’ll egnage. There is no magic wand, no convoluted and acronym-bound process, no two-day workshop, no enumerated steps or cycle. In our work, there’s hardly the claim of understanding what would be sufficient for improving race relations or achieving racial reconciliation in any particular case (again, that would be up to the community); there is, however, a firm claim of understanding what is necessary for those things: that people can talk to each other, can listen to each other, and can bring each other into the circle.

    That being said, I feel that it would be improper if I did not bring myself into the circle at this point. I intend on engaging in plenty of follow-up and commentary as I continue and conclude this piece of writing; I should not do so without bringing my own “elephant moment” into the room:
    Growing up, I never really understood why we didn’t speak Spanish at home. I mean, in a sense I’m a first-generation American whose father came from Colombia as a child—who grew up half here and half there, with dual narratives of the Kardiac Kids and dulce de leche—and in a sense my performative whiteness is hardly questionable—constructed rather seamlessly in a middle/upper-middle class Midwestern suburb. Even those visual, skin-deep aspects of otherness are—with me—ephemeral at best: my mother’s being Irish-German doesn’t really bring any melanin to the table, and the family of my father’s mother was one of sugar cane plantation wealth and European lineage (the kind of folk who end up on the getting kidnapped and shot by the quasi-Marxists side of a decades-long civil war). My father’s father certainly has some mestizo about him, but without his thick accent I don’t imagine many people would think twice about his racial, ethnic, or national identity. So, my only hope for my skin holding on to the half of me that I hardly access is that perhaps in spare moments it achieves the quality of ambiguity I’ve fantasized about since first reading Faulkner’s description of Joe Christmas as “parchment colored.” That being said, it is hard to express how shockingly pleasant it is in those very rare moments when someone assumes there’s something not white about me.

    At some point in high school, I asked my father why he—to put it quite bluntly—whitened. Why don’t we speak Spanish? Why is Colombia something that hangs on our walls but not our bodies? How can my grandmother be so full of sound and color—a tiny, erratic torrent of language and life—and he be so... so much like everyone else’s white, middle class dad?

    Then my father told me a story. He told me about a time when he was living in Pittsburg—where he and my grandparents first moved after leaving Colombia—and decided to wander down to a nearby playground to see what was going on. He must have been four or five at the time. Things started off fine—balls tossed, slides slid, objects climbed. But, at some point, my father began to speak—in Spanish, the only language he knew. And he told me that he’ll never forget the way that the other children at the playground just immediately shunned him—my image for this is always a miniature version of my father sitting on one swing under a gray sky as an empty one sways slowly beside him—and he’ll never forget the feeling of shame in having something that was a part of him, that he had essentially no choice in, create such a strong aversion in people around him, people that he just wanted to play on the swings with. My father says that it was at that point that he become determined to stop speaking Spanish, to learn English, to fit in, and never to have to feel that way again.

    Every time I tell that story I find myself focusing on something different. In this particular instance I find myself halting my typing so that I can look at my hands and try to see the parchment skin. So many emotions are in that story—anger, shame, sadness, empathy—and so many difficult concepts—passing, for instance. Yet, at its core is my father—a strong man, a good man—and he’s so sad, and so alone. And I don’t ever want him to feel that way again either.

    The stories in these pages could very well have been lifted from any one of the many, many story circles I’ve participated in and/or facilitated in communities throughout Mississippi; in most of those story circles I recounted some version what I’ve written above. Of course, no one sat these writers down and gave them the “elephant in the room” prompt, but each story is nevertheless similarly haunted with those moments wherein time balloons as the storyteller bears witness to an unmistakable union of race and power—moments at once roiling with confusion, searing with anger, and thick with guilt: Jim Grimsley’s “black bitch” exchange; Patricia Hoskins’ utterance of “nigger”; Dawne Shand in a swimming pool; Ravi Howard in a restaurant; Glenis Redmond in a sundown-town. Present as well in these stories is the sense that so much about who we are or how we view the world is an aftermath to these moments. One can hardly unearth a first encounter with the intense consequences of racial identity without discussing as well the long, essential process of coming to terms: Foster Dixon walking away from Masonry; Stephanie Powell Watts looking back with pride/nostalgia at an early and “ephemeral” moment of racial inclusion; Lynn Waston feeling a deep sense of being out of place; Leslie Haynesworth confronting the “zero-sum game” of race, gender, motherhood, and opportunity; Ray Morton slowly unraveling and re-imagining white Southern identity; me halting my hands as I type.

    In “Why it Matters,” after recounting a process of discovering a possible African-American ancestry in her father’s family—which had previously been “explained away” as “Indian blood”—and encountering her father’s constant refusal to have a DNA test to determine his heritage, Patricia Hoskins offers the following:
    “That’s when I realized that even in my hometown, where everyone is white, race matters. It’s just that no one wants it to matter because that makes things too difficult; it opens a new can of worms… Race is too abstract, too inconceivable, and at the end of the day, too disturbing.”
    Here, Ms. Hoskins demonstrates the all-too-common notion that exploring the impact of race and racism upon our identities would risk unhinging a kind of Pandora’s box—even in a town that assumes itself to be all white (thus setting itself up for inevitable and innumerable historical ironies). Furthermore, this attitude of resistance, in its preemptive fear of letting race “matter,” actually gives it more ways of mattering. Race is not wholly abstract, because we experience it; race is not wholly inconceivable, because we can articulate it; race is not wholly disturbing, because we can find comfort and support in it. What this book embodies is exactly the sort of honest engagement in both individual and collective memory that will take such an “abstract,” “inconceivable,” and “disturbing” a thing as race and illustrate how it can play a central role in the specificity of our lives—thus showing it in the light of experience rather than the shadows of suspicion.

    Missing from these texts, however, is the moment after our stories have been brought into the circle. So far, we have been tilling the field—turning up the ground to see what is there—and any dialogue grown within has been implicit as best. What is lacking then in these pages—perhaps impossible to achieve in this medium—is the explicit conversation between story-tellers, wherein we all engage in reflecting upon whatever common ground and insight have been brought forth as a result of the active listening that is structured into the story circle process. In the case of this book, though, is the reader’s task to cast the seeds of dialogue: the ground here has been turned by some outstanding individuals— poets, professors, teachers, elected officials, political operatives. The soil is rich with pain, and wisdom, and hope. Hold it in your hand for a while; see what can grow. Then, if you get a moment, bring yourself into the circle—we will share what is harvested.


    the slipperiness of success stories.

    this one (like many before it) goes out to ben guest, as it's a wonderful twist on the old "one child at a time" mantra, especially in regards to the undeniable (though assuredly tenuous, as the following post will illuminate) pleasure of knowing that a young person is achieving the excellence and receiving the opportunities she deserves-- and that you are somehow causally connected to that process. that being said, it's a long road.

    previous posts related to R:

    i am very disappointed to hear from mr. roth and from margaret that you are considering going to jsu next year. i am in the process of tracking down someone at smith that can talk to you about financial options, and hope that my efforts are not wasted.

    it goes without saying that the opportunities at smith college are vastly different than those at jsu. furthermore, if one of your concerns-- as margaret has conveyed to me-- is that since you are a valedictorian than smith college should not require you to take out a loan, i am severely disappointed in this attitude-- since i've always admired your humility, earnestness, and sense of duty.

    no one at amherst college gets scholarships-- you're lucky that smith has some. every bit of financial aid at places like amherst, harvard, williams, etc. comes in the form of need-based loans and grants given to students based on their or their parent's income level. there are many reasons for this, one of which is that if a place like smith college wanted to fill its incoming class with all valedictorians-- it could. there are 450 slots for the incoming class at amherst and over 15,000 applicants-- certainly at least 450 of those applicants are valedictorians, or have a perfect ACT score, or a perfect SAT score, or whatever. but-- and i hope you understand this-- that's not the point. no one is letting you into smith college because you're a valedictorian from jim hill high school-- it is a meaningful though i imagine minor qualification given the depth and breadth of your finer qualities.

    furthermore, i want to remind you that i was certainly not the valedictorian at my high school, that i certainly took out loans to go to amherst (which i am still paying off, and it's not a big burden), and that i chose the financial risk of amherst over scholarships from other schools who wanted to reward me financially but-- in comparison to amherst-- not academically (that's right, jsu may pay you-- but that doesn't mean they're going to teach you).

    in your recommendation letter, i wrote this of you:

    "At the end of the [Princeton Review Program], [R] had gained 400 points on her cumulative [SAT] score, and continues to improve as she sits for additional SAT and ACT tests, ever focused on the opportunities afforded to her by academic success, and profoundly conscious that – though many of her peers are and will be satisfied with scores and performances that are “good enough” – she can always do better, and that excellence is rarely satisfied."

    R, you've always struck me as someone who understands that "excellence is rarely satisfied," and certainly as someone who would not be "satisfied with scores and performance that are 'good enough.'" however, in light of your current dilemma-- i am concerned that see you are seeking what can only be described as a rather troubling satisfaction (i.e. money) for a questionable indicator of excellence (i.e. being a high school valedicatorian-- which i assure you is both impressive and meaningful today but will mean much less so in ten years) from an institution that is certainly in the realm of "good enough" (i.e. jsu).

    i do not want to look back on those words that i wrote and fear that i had the wrong impression of someone that i cared so much for as a student. the rewards and opportunities that you are headed for are neither obvious nor tangible; i hope that you can accept that monetary satisfaction is so trivial in contrast to the potential benefit of a community of academic excellence that you so deserve to be in. smith will not be easy-- academically, financially, personally-- but it will be a space in which you have the opportunity to grow and achieve beyond your wildest imaginations, and to transcend the boundaries of region and community.

    please, R, approach this next phase of your life with patience, faith, humility, and strength. know that i will support you in whatever decision you make-- though i will voice be a voice of both criticism and encouragement as you continue your journey to excellence. i can only hope that you make decisions that are mature enough to embrace the complexity of both the known and the unknown.

    mr. molina


    paranoid/lovesick: found poems 1-4

    a mixtape and companion poems generated by different methods of extraction.

    found poem 1


    not sure
    if you mind
    if I dance with you


    now I’m watching
    the moon

    I’m watching
    all turn

    electric lights
    I think I’m falling

    for you


    you were out of my league
    at a distance that I didn’t want to see

    I still believed in the phrases that we breathed
    but I know the distance isn’t fair to cross

    at a distance that I didn’t want to see
    I wanted you nearer

    I love the place where we shared our tiny grace
    but just because it’s real don’t mean it’s gonna work


    it’s a secret
    I’ve been keeping from you

    it’s a secret
    I’ve been keeping for you


    tell me that

    the temperature is rising
    in your head

    tell me that
    love is not to be


    this way
    the reason why I’m trying
    to make it

    alright trying
    to drive through
    girl wish it


    tonight don’t you expect to
    make a phone call

    tonight treat me
    like a motherfucker
    who was right


    take me to your bed
    and show me some trees


    then she’s gone and my friends can come along
    and it’s never strange just how long she stays


    I like the way you hold
    your head

    let me stay here
    for a week on your couch

    but I would rather
    sleep in your bed or

    even better yet we could
    run away
    and never rest

    your mind is filled
    with fantasies

    you give me
    your insanity


    so tell me why didn’t I leave
    four hours ago at least
    I’ve seen your glare

    down county road 8
    salty lips and whirred fans
    shine on

    catfish angel
    you know they can’t
    hurt me like you do


    I have your good clothes in the car
    I have your dreams and your teeth marks

    I don’t have any questions
    you were right about the end

    you must have known I’d do this someday


    fluids of a summer night
    a delicate blend of sweat

    take my lip between your teeth
    fingers underneath
    stains and scars I can’t explain


    I don’t want to be your friend
    I just want to be a part of you


    you know I went home
    last night sat down on my bed
    and cried


    I woke up to find it
    nothing but a dream
    that’s why I sing
    this lonesome song


    tell me
    you don’t want me anymore
    time don’t matter anymore

    if you want to fight
    just bring it on
    and if the glass will shatter
    it’s deeper when you fall


    a young man came by
    with a beard on his cheek
    and a gleam in his eye


    I sailed a wild wild sea
    beneath a weeping willow tree
    afraid to do the things
    that I knew I had to do


    anyone can see
    I’m in love with
    how you feel


    the sound of the spectacle
    everything we ever said

    we like to get our kicks
    in this way sometimes

    you tell me

    found poem 2


    dancing like heroes would,
    it’s sad that you think we were all passion;

    it don’t think it’s all flailing limbs, twisted dispatches—

    it’s you,
    it’s me.


    the universe is everything,
    I always thought

    now I’m considering watching
    the trains, and the clouds--

    I didn’t have to be all ashamed;
    it’s the universe.


    I was and you were the sea.

    Down to the bottom—bubbles
    and twenty-thousand affections—
    my depths made a pressure,
    and all your fluids the force
    underneath my distance.

    I wanted you nearer,
    and affection floats like a stone:
    so close, so all alone.

    And you were underneath,
    you were nearer.


    I’ve been
    a secret
    for you.


    all the little words down
    like a spider through the cracks;

    all the things I thought
    come through a song;

    all the glass will try
    to tell you: nowhere.


    you’ll never see;
    I’m happier.


    undeclared: a dream
    stays vanity.


    wild stars hanging there—
    they know she floats beneath.


    hair and fingernails
    arms around arms.

    time riots; they
    must have known


    tongue forced: quoting
    what had been devouring;
    things left unsaid.


    it is so hard to want
    just a part of you.


    I can’t know the nightmare
    when you go.


    I remember, bright-eyed,
    the light fell:

    maybe time don’t matter.


    dear, take from me; shove and steal—
    brick and barbed wire to beard, cheek, and eye:

    to remember a parting, stiff and sore,
    from nights heard perfectly and time brief.


    wild and brief, the pieces of light;
    short is the night, and the sun a young fool.

    an escapade sailed beneath some
    questions, lay time as short as song.


    a shadow swinging in the church,
    the trees rumbling in trying fits:
    Don Quixote is at the bottom of anyone.


    the spectacle wasn’t everything;
    everything means ourselves, I guess.

    found poem 3

    if there’s one thing that I could never confess
    that will be the end of everything:

    at a distance that I didn’t want to see, I wanted
    you nearer—it’s a secret I’ve been keeping from you.

    I know we’re going to need a lucky one
    that I don’t think I recognize, but

    if I had the chance to hold your hand
    and I’d know you’re hanging there for me—

    out among the missing sons and daughters,
    head awash with what had been.

    I just want to be a part of you; I don’t care
    when you go; I don’t care how long you stay;

    time don’t matter anymore. I’m stiff and
    I’m sore; afraid to do the things that I knew

    I have to do. I will find my nitch in everything
    we ever said, everything we might have done:

    you tell me.

    found poem 4

    Out in every song is the back of my mind: expanding
    out of clouds, confused and electric; falling
    and waving—first at a distance. Nearer, a pressure
    punctures the thirst, because it’s real: of the sea
    of affection underneath a secret, a kind of trickle
    coming through cracks in the sun, through a phone
    call between trees: perfect and lost all night. I wouldn’t
    hold a dream undeclared; at least hanging stars shine
    on, sweet-toothed fans of difference, and everything
    must be forgiven by questions of imperatives, trampled
    impressions of things unsaid—to see a part of it,
    when little shines through. It’s a fight to shatter
    the secret, singing with a smile and barbed wire
    and a beard and a brick—meeting and parting and sore
    from sleeping on suggested time. Distress, though,
    like a wild sea beneath my feet, is brief: pieces of this
    song now lay broken and short, but starry
    pebbles trying to love in shiny fits of everything.


    fleche, coule, parry

    ben's comment, and a response embedded

    1) I don’t think your comments are particularly aggressive, or something to regret later. As long as you’ve known me, you know I love a good debate, so I take no offense at our difference of opinion (and on several of your points we do agree). The only part I think you will regret is that last paragraph. Whether you have taught for two years or twenty or zero, your beliefs are equally valid. Experience, of course, helps to inform beliefs, but it doesn’t alter the validity.
    (1) that last paragraph is only there to serve as a coincidental preemption to what i completely agree is a moot point-- the relationship between experience and validity of argument. my only regret is that i did not include a nod to the fact that pissing contests about service are often red herrings (though i'm not sure i'm using the idiom correctly).
    2) The parts of Michelle’s blog that I appreciate are, for the most part, different from the parts you most strongly disagree with.
    (2) there are certainly parts of the post that i agree with (and i also regret not taking time to better establish that fact in the midst of my fuss). it is true that teaching is at times unexpectedly difficult and at times threatens to be a unmanageable and dehumanizing experience (for the teacher, the student, the community)-- and people about to engage in this arena should be prompted in this light. my issue is less with the validity of concern for incoming teachers, it is rather with the rhetoric through which that concern is manifest-- which (and i think that this is where you and i disagree alot) i feel extinguishes the value of intent. my assumption is that you're a little more forgiving in regards to the fact that many of the basic truths and basic intents are not regrettable.
    3) The part of the blog that I was highlighting and that I, of course, agree with, is that you have to be strict to be successful at classroom management as a first-year teacher. I haven’t read Skinner so I have no idea if I subscribe to his philosophy. However, I wholeheartedly believe that people respond to incentives, positive and negative. In a classroom setting this means rewarding behavior that you want and punishing behavior you don’t. It’s going to take one hell of an argument, and a lot of data, to convince me otherwise. Michelle was making the point that some (many?) first-years have trouble with the idea of being strict and implementing rules and consequences. Further, Michelle was making the point that while it may seem harsh (key word is seem) it is not actually harsh. Having a well-ordered, safe, classroom with rules and procedures is a sign of caring about the students. I think she is exactly right about this. The main problem you have, I think, with this notion is that Michelle is asking the first-years to “put aside their conscience.” I don’t think this is accurate and I don’t see this reflected in her post. Again, the key word is “seems.” I don’t think Michelle is saying “put away your conscience.” I think she is saying, “examine the ideas of rules, rewards, and consequences before you dismiss them outright as unnecessarily harsh and/or demeaning.”
    (3) of course systems of punishment and reward produce results. i'm far from disputing that. nor am i disputing skinner-influenced behavioral training as a whole (for those of you who want to raise the issue of "that's not what skinner intended"). rather, i am deeply afraid that a deep reliance on punishment and reward systems can amplify the satisfaction of social results (i.e. kids in their seats, kids walking in a straight line, kids saying "yes, sir") to a point to which the humanity of those controlled gets drowned out. furthermore, the ultimate risk of punishment-reward fetish is that when an individual's sole reason for not doing something "bad" is the fear of punishment, the hope for an ethics substantially grounded in community and empathy is practically lost. it is this sort of control mania-- oscillating between implosion of order (due to the numbness of punishment) and amplification of consequence framework (zero tolerance everything, armed security, constant surveillance)-- that propels so much of our schoolhouse-to-jailhouse/cradle-to-prison pipelines. also, (and we do disagree on this), when i hear a lot of "do it," "ignore that," "Believe us," and-- come on-- "The only way to do it ... THE ONLY WAY TO DO IT in their world is through power. It's what they understand. It's the only coin of the realm here," and no consideration for a return to nuanced and humane engagement with a group of young people (honestly, what follows the "once you've earned their respect" phase is merely a reference to the ease of asserting dominance with a mere glance), then i most certainly feel that the call to examine the necessity of rules & consequences bleeds into "put away your conscience"-- though i agree with you in general that this is not a necessary exchange. it's just kind of awkward when we're actually comparing students to dogs (which, yes, references pavlov and by extension skinner).
    4) The stuff about chaotic and tragic lives and seeing more violence before school starts than some of the teachers have ever seen is hyperbole. I believe this is the main part you take issue with. You and Michelle can blog this out.
    (4) i agree with michelle: "hyperbole is a useful rhetorical tool." however, like any tool (e.g. punishment-reward systems) it can be used irresponsibly, and a mere note that it can be useful does not somehow breathe whisk away the problematic consequences of misuse.
    5) The part that I really like in Michelle’s post, and the point I was highlighting, is this: You'll be tempted to think, "I'll be the one who's different. I'll show them respect and they'll respect me for it. They'll want to please me because I'm the first person who's ever smiled at them and shown I care." You will be fresh meat. It won't happen. Michelle is exactly right about this. This happens every year with a few first-years…
    (5) yes. i regret not commenting on the "you'll be fresh meat" passage. one the one hand, it is certainly worthwhile to preempt a hypothetical incoming teacher's notion that he/she will be the one that makes a difference in these lives just by the mere notion of caring; that these poor, deprived people are just waiting for a savior of respect and care. however, instead of calling to light the nuance of community and individual, or countering the regrettable notion that in the event that a new teacher would show care, respect, or even a smile it would somehow be the first time these young people have ever experienced it (much the same for civilized this and that)-- the text seems to return to its violent, colonial framework of a struggle between unimaginable chaos and ignorance and the necessity of structure and power to contain/civilize it. while it is not true that a new teacher is going to be the first sunshine in these young people's cloudy existence, nor is it true that his/her sunshine will-- by mere fact of its sunniness-- fix everything, it is also not true that in response to this once should retreat to the notion that "respect" and relationship-based ethics simply "won't happen" because it's a dog-eat-dog world and these people somehow can't "understand nuanced behavior." again, though the intent is fair, the result is regrettably a violent, cynical shadow of an erstwhile conqueror's optimism. it is a failed revolt away from kurtz saying "kill them all."


    re: "the benefit of sarcasm"

    can i be on the board who gets to select "the best job of pissing me off" award?

    re: "I'm thinking it's Molina from the turgid prose and oh-so-hip lack of concern for language conventions."

    am i "oh-so-hip" because i don't capitalize?



    clearly, "the occasional bout of fury" and "in rare moments of rage" are redundant, though the sentiment remains infrequent.

    to echo myself, few things piss me off more than dehumanizing young people, romanticizing community, and colonial/paternal rhetoric as a vector for talking about pretty much anything.

    the occasional bout of fury

    selected by ben guest as an exemplary passage spawned by his annual "advice to an incoming teacher" writing assignment for the teacher corps.

    During summer school you'll be told to manage your classroom in a way that seems dehumanizing and demeaning. Do it. It won't seem necessary in your summer school class. Ignore that. Your students in your classrooms come from families that are chaotic and tragic beyond your wildest imagination. They see more violence and fear before they come to school some days than you've probably ever seen in your life. What they don't have is structure. They are in free fall in terms of self-regulation. They do not understand nuanced behavior. I know it seems demeaning, but these students need the structure that gives them an anchor.

    You'll be tempted to think, "I'll be the one who's different. I'll show them respect and they'll respect me for it. They'll want to please me because I'm the first person who's ever smiled at them and shown I care." You will be fresh meat. It won't happen. Believe us.

    my response follows. as this all came out in streams of being really pissed off, i will most likely regret the aggressiveness of the language.

    i take serious, serious issue with this (or at least the part that ben has lifted up on his blog). particularly:

    "During summer school you'll be told to manage your classroom in a way that seems dehumanizing and demeaning. Do it."

    wherein you actually ask people to push aside critical engagement in the identity/power issues that lie beneath the very real notion that applying a grotesquely skinnerian framework for behavioral control may be problematic, and-- yes-- dehumanizing (which it is). this is not to say that one should not attempt to create a humanizing and rigid environment, nor is it to say that being strict or structure-happy is necessarily problematic. it is to say, that i take issue with the (unfortunately common) implication that people will be better off putting their conscience aside for the moment while they learn the rigoramole of punishment-punishment-punishment-reward-punishment-punishment because the "reality" of the "dogs" that they're going to have to "train" is just so (gasp) different from their own that they can't possibly understand it, let alone engage in it on it's own terms and or let it inform/be informed by whatever previous socioethical framework they are fluent in.

    "Your students in your classrooms come from families that are chaotic and tragic beyond your wildest imagination."

    wherein you blatantly romanticize and make caricature of (and, to qualify my use of these terms, i point to your use of "wildest imagination") the very community that you are serving. once again dehumanization takes the form of hyperbole: that the "reality" of the living conditions outside of the school building (i.e. in the space of homes) is just beyond rational understanding. i contend that it is in fact not that hard to engage in (let alone wrap one's mind around) the wide range of family relationships that one encounters in a community (any community, actually), and perhaps the real issue is that we're letting our "wildest imaginations" get the best of us, instead of doing the difficult work of engaging in the complexities of power, race, identity, community, etc. and, of course, we can all bring out our "life is tough" list of horrible situations that students have to deal with-- but the suggestion of embedding one's response to that list within a framework that replaces rational, supportive engagement with an arm's length just-make-sure-their-shirts-are-tucked-in and use-your-discipline-ladder-so-they-know-there's-structure is far from good advice. furthermore, the most tragic consequence of this caricature is the absence of family lives that are healthy (though, like all, imperfect). dear future teacher: some of your parents give a damn. more importantly, don't for a second let a class, race, or region informed assumption ignite a functional "imagination" to eclipse the reality of your community.

    "They do not understand nuanced behavior."

    wherein you actually remove the human element from our students. are you kidding me? they don't understand nuanced behavior? this is not only a grossly offensive homogenization of young people (in the same vein of your previous grossly offensive homogenization of mississippi families), but takes the cake in what can only be racialized undertones in these other efforts to help the unconverted yet-to-be-teacher "understand" the sheer uncivilized context in which they are about to have their colonial trial by fire. by actually presupposing that a set of human beings do not (as a whole, mind you) understand nuanced behavior, one opens the door for a vast amount of abuse stemming from the conclusion that they "don't know any better" or i "know what's best for them," a pair of rationales that have some interesting historical precedent (especially in mississippi: if black folk don't understand the nuances of our fine constitution...)

    and, for those who may take issue with my taking issue (and want to play the battle wounds game), a little preemption: yes, i was a public high school teacher. yes, i was a public high school teacher in mississippi. yes, i'm still in mississippi. oh, and if you want to really find a reason for me to not having the background necessary to "understand where she's coming from," i did not teach in the delta (which, i may add, does not corner the market on educational failure).


    another spring stanza

    tearing up silence;
    throwing ghosts at it--
    arms, breasts,
    the smell of her neck--
    an empty phone.


    WWIRR = youtube

    first up: our promo video. we're working on converting oral histories and other video documentation...


    in rare moments of rage

    few things piss me off more than abstinence only sex education. this of course means that as a public high school teacher in mississippi i would occasionally leap into a fit of rage when faced with stuff like the following:

    (1) explaining to a student where her uterus was and how ovulation works
    (2) explaining to a student that HIV/AIDS is not created by the mere fact of two men engaging in intercourse
    (3) explaining to a student that it is not true that condoms break most of the time
    (4) explaining to a student that HIV/AIDS is not passed through tears, sweat, and/or saliva

    at the very least, conversations like this push the boundaries of propriety. and yet, when three students carry to term during my two years in the classroom, and with knowledge that many more have children at home and no services or support to speak of for these women-- i quickly stop caring about what is or is not appropriate in the face of absurd and dangerous faith-cum-policy.

    pun intended.

    also, it always kills me to realize that i went to an all-boys catholic high school and had very comprehensive sex education. of course, sometime afterwards we would walk wide-eyed over to theology class for our daily allowance of guilt, but still...

    jesuits: 1
    bush administration: 0

    oh, we also learned about evolution.

    jesuits: 2
    bush administration: 0

    from "Of condoms, Clinton, Obama and McCain," by Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., in, March 24, 2008
    As a pediatrician, doing my job well means I talk with teens about their sex lives... That means I'm testing them for sexually transmitted diseases, performing pelvic exams to make sure they don't have signs that can lead to cervical cancer later, and discussing and prescribing contraception -- abstinence, condoms, Plan B and birth control pills.

    This kind of comprehensive approach to teen sex has been successful. Teens have been waiting longer to have sex, and teen pregnancy rates dropped by almost 30 percent between 1990 and 2000. If they are sexually active, teenage girls have reported having fewer partners and are more likely to use some form of contraception than in the past.

    ... Since 2000, teens have faced a rise in abstinence-only education, hurdles to obtaining Plan B emergency contraception and a hike in the price of birth control pills.

    ... Shortly after President Bush took office, he began pushing abstinence-only sex education, where teens learn that the only way to prevent STDs and pregnancy is to wait to have sex until they're married. If or when abstinence proponents do mention contraceptives, they greatly exaggerate their failure rates to scare teens into believing they are useless. Funding for abstinence programs has grown to around $180 million annually.

    ... According to the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the nation's largest study of teen behavior, kids who took abstinence vows kept them for just a little over one year. Worse, pledgers who failed at abstinence were less likely to use contraception when they had sex. Further, the study shows that in the past six years, the prevalence of STDs has been similar between pledgers and nonpledgers.

    ...there was last summer's revelation that the price of oral contraceptives was going up for college students. Traditionally, Big Pharma has given campuses a break on the price of birth control pills. But the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act put an end to that, as the government cut drug reimbursements to pharmacies. Suddenly, an $8 to $12 charge for a month's worth of birth control spiked to between $30 and $50. That priced out a whole lot of young women from protecting themselves.

    While a dreamy religious conservative might argue that the spike will also price teenage girls out of having sex, think again. Most first-person reports tell us that women's sex lives haven't changed. Now, however, they're having riskier sex, relying only on condoms or depending on Plan B as birth control, taking it after each episode of intercourse, something it's not approved for.

    ...There has been nearly a decade of disconnect between Washington and young women. If you have any doubts about the consequences, consider that the teen pregnancy rate recently rose for the first time in 15 years. That prompts the question: Who's going to stand up for teens over the next 10 years?


    noticed: mississippi goddamn

    the name of this tune is mississippi goddamn
    and i mean every word of it

    ~ nina simone

    from "Communism is not Biblical," by David Thigpen, in The Daily Mississippian, March 19, 2008
    The problem of meeting with communist leaders for most political candidates is that they themselves are not communist, but if you are a communist, then what is the controversy in meeting with a communist leader?

    The answer is that there isn't any for Obama, because he is a communist.
    yes. this was actually printed in an opinion piece in the actual ole miss newspaper. with writing like this, who needs satire?


    more adventures in rhetoric


    i take severe issue with any position that posits "one _____ at a time" as a model or objective for change. "something something something Mississippi one child at a time" is an overly common tag line for education-related groups and organizations, and (i think) used to be in heavy use by the Mississippi Teacher Corps-- though a glance through the new website now brings up much more palatable fare: from the feel-good “Be the change you wish to see in the world” of ghandi to the historically poignant "How can a country like this allow it? Maybe they just don’t know” of bobby kennedy.

    in any case, i can't get over a few pitfalls that are assumed within a "one ____ at a time" outlook. first, you run the risk of contextualizing progress within the framework of success stories, which are by definition only visible/notable within a broad structure of failure, and as such couldn't be considered "successful" if these preconditions were somehow mitigated-- and, you know, it weren't a heart-warming surprise to run into a phd candidate who went to public school in the delta; it were just a natural consequence of things like equal opportunity, talent, and hard work (and mississippi--as any population of human beings--is full of the latter two). second, hinging one's contributions to the coattails of success stories is often causally misleading; when the pipelines of economic, educational, political, and social progress are severely absent from an environment, "success" is clearly less a consequence of any common vector within that environment, and more a natural outlier of a population. that is, no matter how much you oppress, uneducate, disenfranchise, impoverish, etc. there will always be a frederick douglass or a fannie lou hamer-- individuals whose achievements may very well have be built in resistance to an environment or despite an environment, but for which the typical channels of authority and resource distribution in an environment have little claim.

    that being said, of course every once in a while a kid will come out of jim hill high school who gets into brown or stanford or whatever, but the mere instance of an outlier passing through a school's hallways does not a productive environment make. sure enough, we've all appropriately wept when this or that president or neurosurgeon thanks his or her third grade reading teacher for believing in him or her and that's why education's important, but underneath the kleenex haunts things like teacher attrition, false bootstraps nostalgia, and/or the fact that one teacher in one school building somewhere taught a successful person how to read does not redeem american education; how many of mrs. so-and-so's pumpkins are in parchman?(note, i am not dismissing mrs. so-and-so's impact on president whatever, i'm just saying that we can't look at mrs. so-and-so or dr. human-interest-story and honestly be convinced that our approach to education works. "one _____ at a time," like "it takes a village" or "it starts in the home," is excellent fodder for anecdote, narrative, and memoir, but is awful for--excuse me mr. ghandi-- being change.)

    what is more, even if you could create a model that produces consistent, albiet one-at-a-time gain--this is at best a thumb-in-the-dike, and at worst another mode of denying the cracks in the levee. for all the good they produce, even the relatively large-yield charter reform efforts like KIPP are ultimately limited by their own measures of quality control (the whole KIPP network includes 14,000 students; there are 150,000 public school students in the state of mississippi, which ranks 31st in the US in terms or population). for all the success stories of students that got in to an excellent school by way of lottery, there are countless others who never made it off the waiting list (thus the retention of the success story element). so, in the event that the KIPP people (or next cycle's silver bullet analogues) offer little in the way of deep, structural reform--we're just doing a better job helping people swim upstream. which is fine, i guess. i'm just more interested in whether or not we can think about changing course. (how's that for mixing metaphors?)


    last evening, a student of mine called to tell me that she was accepted to smith college with a half-tuition scholarship. she is a wonderful, honest, determined, brilliant young woman who deserves all the accolades she receives. i taught her math in her 10th grade, still moderate an after school program she's a leader in, and wrote her a college recommendation letter; robbie taught her english for the past two years and moderates that same program; margaret assisted her substantailly through the college application process; jake was her teacher in an SAT prep course; and on and on.

    i will admit, my skepticism aside, one child at a time certainly feels--as i look back at this student's past three years-- both exhausting and rewarding.

    no cure for the libidinous like a rationale

    a day too long in the sun has reminded
    me there's some coffee in this cream.

    it's warming up quite a bit down here in pastoral oxford, mississippi.

    flowers are there that once weren't there;
    everywhere cars are yellow-green with the landscape's hopeful ejaculate.

    i ran yesterday for 45 minutes at an unnecessary pace.

    from "In Most Species, Faithfulness Is a Fantasy," by natalie angier, in the NYTimes, march 18, 2009:

    It’s been done by many other creatures, tens of thousands of other species, by male and female representatives of every taxonomic twig on the great tree of life. Sexual promiscuity is rampant throughout nature, and true faithfulness a fond fantasy. Oh, there are plenty of animals in which males and females team up to raise young, as we do, that form “pair bonds” of impressive endurance and apparent mutual affection, spending hours reaffirming their partnership by snuggling together like prairie voles or singing hooty, doo-wop love songs like gibbons, or dancing goofily like blue-footed boobies.


    Even the “oldest profession” old news. Nonhuman beings have been shown to pay for sex, too. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, researchers from Adam Mickiewicz University and the University of South Bohemia described transactions among great grey shrikes, elegant raptorlike birds with silver capes, white bellies and black tails that, like 90 percent of bird species, form pair bonds to breed. A male shrike provisions his mate with so-called nuptial gifts: rodents, lizards, small birds or large insects that he impales on sticks. But when the male shrike hankers after extracurricular sex, he will offer a would-be mistress an even bigger kebab than the ones he gives to his wife — for the richer the offering, the researchers found, the greater the chance that the female will agree to a fly-by-night fling.


    Commonplace though adultery may be, and as avidly as animals engage in it when given the opportunity, nobody seems to approve of it in others, and humans are hardly the only species that will rise up in outrage against wantonness real or perceived. Most female baboons have lost half an ear here, a swatch of pelt there, to the jealous fury of their much larger and toothier mates. Among scarab beetles, males and females generally pair up to start a family, jointly gathering dung and rolling and patting it into the rich brood balls in which the female deposits her fertilized eggs. The male may on occasion try to attract an extra female or two — but he does so at his peril. In one experiment with postmatrimonial scarabs, the female beetle was kept tethered in the vicinity of her mate, who quickly seized the opportunity to pheromonally broadcast for fresh faces. Upon being released from bondage, the female dashed over and knocked the male flat on his back. “She’d roll him right into the ball of dung,” Dr. Barash said, “which seemed altogether appropriate.”


    public tallying 2

    less misanthropic today. also, i've reminded myself-- while re-reading my "i have a problem with ritual" mess-- that over the past few weeks i've herded various co-workers through a rather fixed loop from the office, to the starbucks in the student union, back to the office-- with specifics paths taken to approach and to leave the starbucks, and a with the same order made each time: a grande iced americano, no room for cream (but in which i allow a splash of milk, if only to watch the inky cloud resulting). this procession is-- at this point-- intentional, and comfortable. and a ritual, no doubt. as with my morning routine: press snooze three times, turn on the espresso machine, shower, dress, drink espresso, leave. this brings up the question: when does a routine become a ritual? what problems do i have with the ritual of walking down the aisle that i do not have with walking by the lyceum?


    the public tallying of desire

    i have a problem with ritual. well, i'm not sure that's so much accurate as it is a nice out-of-the-blocks sentence. i have a difficult time coming to terms with ritual; i have a bothersome relationship with ritual. something.

    in any case, i often plant myself in a constructivist corner when the importance of a birthday, a holiday, or an anniversary is brought to issue. embrace the arbitrary; do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself; grumble grumble grumble.

    from this admittedly overly skeptical vantage point, rituals of common social gravity seem to receive the most flak. marriages, for instance: generally possessing neither rigidity nor sanctity, they are nevertheless serve a reasonable role in attempting to package public acknowledgment for something that already exists. a ring does not a marriage make; a "she's my girlfriend" does not a boyfriend (or girlfriend) make. a marriage exists, and a ring acknowledges it-- but does not create it.

    in this regard, i have much appreciation for the catholic church's understanding of the sacrament of marriage-- which is not a sacrament conferred or consecrated by a mass or a priest performing a mass or a father trying not to cry at a mass; it is a sacrament consecrated by the actors themselves (in part by getting it on, yes), in the esoteric and inscrutable intertwinings of their being alive, and the "getting married" part-- i.e. the white dress, the ring barer, and the creepy uncle-- is merely an attempt to say "this thing exists," to give a visible, rigid instantiation to something that requires neither, and at the end of the day seems neither necessary nor sufficient for the existence of the thing it is acknowledging to exist (and particularly not sufficient). in this light, the catholic understanding of annulment is also impressive, for it is not an act of canceling a marriage (i.e. a divorce), but rather the acknowledgment that a marriage never happened-- that there was only the finger pointing, and never the moon-- and the blushing bride, the squirming groom, the dancing flower girl, and grandma's china were all-- in a sense-- duped by a massive parade of social signifier that had form, but not substance. this is a ritualistic orientation i like, one that has no pretension of it's causal or necessary/sufficient powers-- an honest attempt at signifying, without being convinced that signifying is necessarily creating.

    on the other hand, it is kind of nice to see an otherwise fancy couple sitting together at a coffee shop-- accompanied by an absurd and pink/purple embellished teddy bear, who gets the occasional kiss on the nose.

    all this "being limply defiant" burst forth while reading, "of valentines jinxes and packaged gnocci," by rebecca traister in, february 14, 2008:
    As Valentine's Day approached with all its humiliations and hormones-- the in-class carnations and kissing and public tallying of desire!


    Don't misunderstand. I have never given a good goddamn about Valentine's Day. Only intermittently has it had any emotional impact. Once, in the midst of a particularly agonizing winter breakup cycle, my jaw went slack during a sushi dinner with a girlfriend who was devastated that her swain would be out of town on business for the big day. "I'll know I have a boyfriend, but I'll feel so pathetic when all the women in my office are getting ready to go out for dinner and it'll look like I have nothing to do!" she said, as I quietly wondered if I could drown myself in a shallow pool of low-sodium soy sauce.

    I recall a few limply defiant all-girls gatherings, designed to take the sting out of being single on the biggest Hallmark holiday of the year. But most of those ended at a dive bar, gossiping about jobs and boys. Putting energy into hating Valentine's Day is as hackneyed and old hat as hating New Year's Eve. There's no traction or originality there.


    And then I rolled a perfect gnocchi.

    taken at the MS state fair, 2007


    noticed: misc

    just set up internet in my new apartment, so hopefully that will allow for better writing patterns. oddly enough, i always seem to be either wrapped up in work at the office or on the road, clinging to my ipod (with which i recently discovered npr podcasts).

    that being said, there are piles of random "noticed" blurbs that were neither typed up nor was time found to comment upon them. so, a bit of a purge (also, in the next couple of days i hope to do some commentary on community meetings i've been attending):

    from "Maternity Fashions, Junior Size," by Katha Pollitt, in The Nation, January 21, 2008:
    Teens getting pregnant: bad. Teens having babies: good. If this makes no sense to you, wake up and smell the Enfamil. It's 2008!


    In Juno, the pregnant girl is the central figure, a witty oddball who drives the action, beginning with the sex; neither the boy nor her father and stepmother, a well-meaning but rather oblivious pair, much affect her decisions. Thus, Juno goes for abortion alone, without even telling her parents she's pregnant. In real life, this would most likely have been impossible, because nearly all states in the Midwest (where the movie is set) have parental notification or consent laws.


    Juno is sensible enough to realize she's just a kid and makes the choice that not long ago was forced on middle-class white girls [i.e. carrying to term]. These days, 29 percent of pregnant teens have abortions; 14 percent miscarry; of the 57 percent who carry to term, less than 1 percent give up the baby. Paradoxically, the women's movement destigmatized single motherhood and thus helped make a world in which some of the old justifications for abortion no longer seem so forceful. Now it's abortion that is a badge of shame and "irresponsibility."


    Just to bring the whole reproductive carnival full circle, Florida's "Choose Life" license plates, of which more than 40,000 have been sold, have raised more than $4 million for low-income single moms. But there's a catch: only women who choose adoption qualify. A woman who wants to keep her baby can just go starve in hell. Since only a handful of woman want to give away their babies-- even among pregnant woman who plan on adoption, 35 percent chance their mind once the baby is born-- the money is just sitting there. Maybe someone, someday will make a movie about that.

    from "Totally Spent," by Robert Reich, in The New York Times, February 13, 2008:
    The underlying problem has been building for decades. America’s median hourly wage is barely higher than it was 35 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Most of what’s been earned in America since then has gone to the richest 5 percent.

    Yet the rich devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they’re rich. They already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, and thus stimulating the American economy, the rich are more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

    The problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found ways to live beyond their paychecks. But now they have run out of ways.

    The first way was to send more women into paid work. Most women streamed into the work force in the 1970s less because new professional opportunities opened up to them than because they had to prop up family incomes. The percentage of American working mothers with school-age children has almost doubled since 1970 — to more than 70 percent. But there’s a limit to how many mothers can maintain paying jobs.

    So Americans turned to a second way of spending beyond their hourly wages. They worked more hours. The typical American now works more each year than he or she did three decades ago. Americans became veritable workaholics, putting in 350 more hours a year than the average European, more even than the notoriously industrious Japanese.

    But there’s also a limit to how many hours Americans can put into work, so Americans turned to a third way of spending beyond their wages. They began to borrow. With housing prices rising briskly through the 1990s and even faster from 2002 to 2006, they turned their homes into piggy banks by refinancing home mortgages and taking out home-equity loans. But this third strategy also had a built-in limit. With the bursting of the housing bubble, the piggy banks are closing.