February 28, 2020

To quiet the racing mind

A few unrelated, miscellaneous things that have been occupying my thoughts recently, in no particular order:

1. Jesse Wente, on our national broadcaster, said the words that we all needed to hear and that we all knew but were afraid to say: Canada is a state built on removal of Indigenous peoples to make way for resource extraction companies.” The demonstrations in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs across the country have started conversations that we needed to have in this country. In some cases, those conversations have been marked by racism and hatred, but in some, they have been marked by a true curiosity. I’ve had three people reach out to me and ask me how they can learn more, because they felt uninformed. I’ve pointed them to this excellent resource by Chloloula.

2. The fear around COVID-19 has really ramped up recently, and I know many people for whom the uncertainty around what it means for them has developed into a full-blown panic. I wonder what to tell people when they come to me, scared and uncertain. I am not a medical professional, and though our public health units constantly remind us that we have this under control—and I value and applaud the immense work our infectious disease physicians and nurses are doing, on top of the work being done by public health—this is no longer just a global medical crisis, but a crisis of how we share information, report on news, and assess global concern. There’s so much being said, all around the world, but very little coordination in what is being said and how; as we grapple with the global pandemic, we must also grapple with the way information moves across the world and how that information shapes us.

3. There is a literary publication called the Taco Bell Quarterly (not officially affiliated with Taco Bell) and the writing in it is quite good.  All the pieces are about, or involve, Taco Bell in some way, but don’t let that keep you away: this is an excellent publication, featuring real writers who have an excellent command of the language, and the pieces have artistic merit and emotional resonance. I’m already planning out my submission for their third issue.

4. I’d like to teach more. Perhaps, maybe one day, I’d like to start moving my career into a space where I can do more teaching, more training, more curricular development, more coaching and mentoring. I think I’m good at it, and when a student recently told me, after returning from a week off class because of reading week, that, it has been so long, we missed your class,” I realized that I’m making a bigger impact than I ever thought I would.

5. My therapist has been working with me over the past few months to figure out how growing up in financial scarcity has affected me and driven some of my behaviours now. (The fact that I’m always worried about running out of money, even though we’re lucky enough to be comfortable and have some savings now, is something we’re unpacking.) I’ve been wondering how a childhood of financial precarity changed my professional pursuits: would I have taken the risk to be a writer, like I always wanted to be? Or gone into the performing arts, like I always loved to do?

6. There are so many things flying through my head this morning; what is it about some mornings that the mind just won’t quiet down, allow you to focus? What do you do to quiet the racing mind, when your meditation and breathing practice doesn’t seem to work anymore?

Two poems

A Litany for Survival
Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

— — —

Kaveh Akbar

How long can you speak.
Without inhaling. How long.
Can you inhale without.
Bursting apart. History is wagging.
Its ass at us. Twirling in its silver.
Cape. I want to kiss.
Your scalp. I want you to kiss.
My friends. Can you see the wet.
Azalea quivering.
On its vine. Its ripening.
Dread. If it never rained again.
I would still wear.
My coat. Still wrap.
My socks in plastic. Doing.
One thing is a way.
Of not doing everything else.
Today I answer only.
To my war name. Wise.
Salt. I can make.
A stone float off into.
The sky. I can make.
A whole family.
Disappear. I know.
So many people.
Have been awful to you.
I’ve given each one.
A number. When you’re ready.
I will ask you to draw me.
Their hands.

A few things I’ve written over the past month:

More excellent links from around the web:

Carly Rae Jepsen’s exhilarating, emotionally intelligent pop music:

While I would like to fancy myself unique, and to regard full-throated, emotionally excessive pop music as especially tailored to my disposition, it’s simply not. For generations, we’ve craved music that seeps into our tear ducts as well as into our hips. Singers like Jepsen and Robyn amp up that emotionality, rendering it evermore explicitly the point, rather than a commonplace effect. As the world persists in its cruelty, we seek the multi-vectored catharsis that comes from soaking in our heartache while sweating our way to transcendence.

Canada is fake:

When I say that Canada is fake, I don’t mean anything so universal or theoretical. Canada is not an accident or a work in progress or a thought experiment. I mean that Canada is a scam — a pyramid scheme, a ruse, a heist. Canada is a front. And it’s a front for a massive network of resource extraction companies, oil barons, and mining magnates.

Reconciliation is dead and it was never really alive:

Canada is a state built on removal of Indigenous peoples to make way for resource extraction companies.

Build build build build build build build build build build build build build build:

Nearly all of the biggest challenges in America are, at some level, a housing problem. Rising home costs are a major driver of segregation, inequality, and racial and generational wealth gaps. You can’t talk about education or the shrinking middle class without talking about how much it costs to live near good schools and high-paying jobs. Transportation accounts for about a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, so there’s no serious plan for climate change that doesn’t begin with a conversation about how to alter the urban landscape so that people can live closer to work.

What ruins can teach us about beauty and decay

In the 20th century, culture came to be seen as a ruin, a troubled witness to human violence. We are struck less by nature’s sublime powers than by the enormity of our capacity for ruination. The sentimental attachment to the ruin, the contemplative gaze that finds signs of renewal in mossy growth on broken stones, has been deconstructed. In our age of climate crisis, we might ask: When humans cause mass extinction, what does it mean to find beauty in decay?

Flirting is lovely:

Flirting is lovely. I am a flirt. I flirt all the time. There is, for me, a spoken language of flirting, and a bodily one. In conversation, there is something of a frisson to a wonderful, witty back and forth. This is because I find intelligence attractive. I might not be physically attracted to my interlocutor — hell, it might even be a friend, and the idea of hooking up weird — but it’s the thrill of the exercise.

An intimate look at medically-assisted death:

I asked Bill whether he was afraid of dying.

I was. I have been. I’ve had a few incidents of anxiety. They’re mainly related to breathing. I have a fear of losing my breath and not being able to get oxygen into my lungs, or the lungs failing, or the heart collapsing. But to answer you honestly, quite honestly, no. I don’t look forward to it, but there will come a day and I’ll be ready. Irene will be there. To hold her hand means so much to me. The day won’t be that far off. I don’t fear it any longer.”

What the Obamas’ portraits reveal about the changing American art canon:

Millions of Americans travel to Washington, DC, each year, often as part of a patriotic journey, and many of those who visit the National Portrait Gallery have told us, through comment cards, that they see America’s Presidents as symbolic of this country’s democracy. One can, after all, rely on this singular collection of paintings to frame a larger story of the United States.

All your favorite brands, from BSTOEM to ZGGCD:

The store is what matters, not the products, not the brand. The thing to be named, cultivated and protected by trademark isn’t a product or a line of products, but rather this thin, valuable conduit to American consumers, particularly to the more than 100 million American subscribers to Amazon Prime.

Inside the world of femcels’:

Reading posts like these, it becomes clear why so many believe women like vcardthrow1 don’t exist: because it’s painful to think about. It’s inconvenient to imagine their anguish, impossible to relate to it if you’ve never been that low and cognitively grating if it contradicts what you think you know — that any” woman could get fucked or wifed up if she’d only lower her standards. Men could too, of course, but a vile and raging inceldom is much more in line with what we’d expect from a group of people who, according to stereotype, will spontaneously combust if denied access to sex.

Janelle Monáe’s Afrofuture:

As we were leaving, a seemingly drunk man with strategic scruff and a deliberately casual manner waylaid her. He introduced himself and told Monáe he wanted to talk to her as if he had something of the utmost importance to say. He did not. I stepped aside to give them privacy but did not put too much distance between us because he was clearly hitting on her and she gave no impression that she was at all interested. A few minutes later, as we walked to the curb to wait for our cars, she thanked me for not leaving her alone. Sometimes celebrities really are just like us, tolerating the attention of obnoxious men with terrible beards.

Japan’s lost-and-found system is insanely good:

It is not uncommon in Japan to hear stories of young children turning in small coins or trinkets to police, who then dutifully fill out a lost-and-found report. (It helps that police in low-crime Japanese cities often have lots of time on their hands.) Public notices from the police are also periodically released reassuring parents that children returning nominal lost goods are not a burden on officers.

The age of decadence:

Complaining about decadence is a luxury good — a feature of societies where the mail is delivered, the crime rate is relatively low, and there is plenty of entertainment at your fingertips. Human beings can still live vigorously amid a general stagnation, be fruitful amid sterility, be creative amid repetition. And the decadent society, unlike the full dystopia, allows those signs of contradictions to exist, which means that it’s always possible to imagine and work toward renewal and renaissance.

Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele’ turns 20:

By early 2000, Wu-Tang was an empire in decline, a chaotic mass of feuding clans and unrealized plans. And then Ghostface Killah came through, eating seasoned giraffe ribs and dicking down Oprah and inviting all of us to walk with him like Dorothy. At the dawn of a new decade, Ghost internalized and channeled all that Wu-Tang chaos into a true masterpiece of American abstract art. That was Supreme Clientele.

Reading J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace” during the Harvey Weinstein trial:

As a movie producer, Weinstein advanced the careers of beautiful young women—a life’s work that appears to have had two inseparable faces of generosity and demand. Hollywood systematically reduces people to their ability to inspire lust and longing from strangers; if Weinstein reduced women to a walking surfeit of a resource—beauty—that demanded seizure and distribution, perhaps he also imagined himself as a walking deficit of that resource. A man fixated on the supposed injustice of his own lack sometimes concludes that he is entitled to what he doesn’t possess.

Everyone who loves to cook was making beans this year:

Beans are not just an affordable food, but a food associated with poverty, and they’ve long been stigmatized as such. The bean recipe popularized by Adler and Nosrat and others is based on a Tuscan recipe; Tuscans were derided as mangia-fagioli, or bean eaters, because they were too poor to afford meat. Bean is also at the root of an anti-Mexican slur here in the U.S. Generally, in mainstream American culture, beans have been devalued as somehow ethnic” or reduced to fart jokes. Bean fetishization would be only the other side of that ugly, tarnished coin.

How driving ruins local flavor:

The data show a strong positive relationship between miles driven and chain restaurant market share. Metros where people drive more have a higher fraction of chain restaurants. For example, New York, Portland and New Orleans all have a very low share of chain restaurants (less than 20 percent), and also have very low rates of driving per capita. Places where people drive a lot (Atlanta, Charlotte and Orlando) tend to have very high proportions of chain restaurants (more than 30 percent). Overall, each additional mile driven per day is associated with an 0.6 percentage point increase in the share of chain restaurants in a metropolitan area.

And a few more:

Stunning photos of the extraordinary rice terraces of Yunnan, China:

Rice terraces in Yunnan, China

This Russian multiplication trick blows my mind:

Wishing you all some quiet and calm focus this weekend, my friends. I’ll be back soon, once the racing mind has calmed down.

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