Fun Days in Bernal Heights

Today I’m feeling deep appreciation for our sweet neighborhood in Bernal Heights. I spent the morning writing a book review in Pinhole Coffee, chatting with people sometimes and feeling thankful for JoEllen’s lovely cafe which gives such a good space for local community.

On the way home I ran into Frank from Good Life (we always say hello) and then Mike from Progressive Grounds who was blasting his friend’s band playing a cover of Minor Threat song from his bicycle.

Between the time I left and the time I came back, someone took half the books from our Little Free Bookshelf – leaving one of the guidebooks to Paris and the Penguin copy of Moby Dick. (Glorified name for what is just a wooden wine box on end, under the porch awning. It’s fun when other people leave books there, and I often read them and put them out again.)

I picked up some trash from the sidewalk and put it into the bin under our sidewalk bench made of stumps and a board. Someone sat there last night and had take out food and a cigarette. Someone else often comes and drinks a glass bottle of Squirt there, leaving the bottle… I wonder who it is, and I like them for having a habit, secretly visible to me though I never see them, only their distinctive bottles.

Running into Marc from Unicorn Precinct and having a rambly, jumping, lightning speed conversation about books and poems. He was reading Daniel Borzutzky and I felt like I recognized him (from ALTA conferences?) I told Marc about the neobaroque movement and he talked about his children’s play “Factory Full of Weasels”. Danny critiqued his copy of Jacobin magazine a bit (it has nice layout tho) and we both excitedly tried to explain the weird awfulness of “Politics and Apocalypse”. (Shudder.)

Down the street doing a quick errand I was chatting with El Ahorro owner and family as they are opening a sandwich shop in the back of the store – already a great neighborhood store.

Friends who live close by, coming over this afternoon for end of the year tea and black eyed peas.

The guy a few houses down must still be on vacation, his perpetual barbershop-and-garage-sale still closed for the holidays.

Next week I’ll go to the two free tai chi classes, one at the library, one at the senior center, a new habit in the making which will bring new acquaintances I’ve likely seen around the neighborhood.

It’s nice to live somewhere for years, to see the same people every day, in my usual haunts, feeling just a little connection to others, the opposite of isolated, knowing the usual ways the fog and afternoon wind rolls in and out through the gap in the hills, kind of like how we were aware of the tide when we lived on the houseboat in Pete’s Harbor.

[photo: a tiny zine called Fun Days in Bernal Heights, by the downtown zine kiosk owner]

Bernal zine

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Ridiculously meta fanfiction: Barsetshire and Madame Koska

In the last few weeks in my way of consuming books relentlessly when I can’t sleep and am feeling stressed, I’ve been reading all possible Angela Thirkell books that I could find in e-book format. They’re a ridiculous series written and set after World War I in England in Trollope’s fictional Barsetshire. The class politics are terrible and interesting and they’re a bit like reading a more complex Agatha Christie novel without the mystery solving. It’s always interesting to see how a novelist treats writing about the same group of people over time – these books would be perfect for the long intersecting arcs of a long-running tv series.

I finally hit the book “Peace Breaks Out” and felt surfeited of fancy-ass people with vaguely Trollopean names bemoaning the nastiness of their rationed food and the fact that sometimes they have to clean up after themselves. Definitely found myself muttering and cussing them all out, and hating the obvious arcs of the mawkish love stories past a certain point.

But then in the suggested next books, I noticed some mystery books starring Madame Koska – who was the detective in the books written by a fictional novelist, one of the nicest characters in Thirkell’s series, Laura Morland. Mrs. Morland writes trashy detective novels to support herself and her four sons and their household (ie their servants). It’s a running joke how while she is self-deprecating, everyone she meets gushes about how much they love Madame Koska’s exciting world of fashion design.

Perfect…. completely meta-trashy…. the meta has gone 2 levels deep as Thirkell was more or less writing Trollope fanfiction and then the Koska author is writing fanfic of the fanfic. I have just started Madame Koska and the Imperial Brooch – it’s extremely fun and silly.

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Sideways review of “In Old Narragansett: Romances and Realities”

Read an interesting book about Narragansett. Through the ugly casual racism you can see some interesting stuff. I looked up a lot of details and learned a little about the history of Black Governors in New England and their elections. Written in 1898 with stories about people who lived 100 or so years before, another Alice Morse Earle book. And now for a random history walk through the interwebs!!!

I did find census records of some of the people mentioned including Cuddymonk, who is described as mixed Narragansett and Black (in the 1790 census as Cuddy Monk with 5 in his household; his wife Rosann is mentioned in the book but the census only lists heads of households). I looked him up since he had a distinctive name.

Anyway, the book has a bunch of stories from what is now Bonnet Shores (then Boston Neck) including a mention of the ridge where the Tower is built (The Tower is named after “Unfortunate Hannah” Robinson). (I know the area from (partly) growing up there, and the Tower was and is a really cool landmark.) In Earle’s story, Hannah is an abandoned, sickly, dying young girl returning home to reconcile with her stern, cruel father after eloping with a French dancing-master. In actual life, she had 9 children with him in Providence before she returned to her parents’ house, which kind of messes up the touching fable of her almost innocent girlhood!

Unfortunate Hannah Robinson’s dad was a rich slave-owning plantation owner in Boston Neck, who bought a woman he called Abigail. The local story as told by Earle (I can’t find any other source) is that she was a queen in Africa, and Robinson freed her so she could go back there and find her son and … bring him back to Rhode Island? OK, seems unlikely! Her son Prince Robinson became one of the Black Governors of the area. The Prince Robinson in the census in the 1800s who was a stonemason may be him or may be his son. I feel sure a bit of real research could tell. There was also a woman named Tuggie Bannock who was said to be Abigail’s daughter and who was a witch. I couldn’t find her in the census. Earle makes her sound ridiculous, which is very annoying.

As I was looking through the census I noticed the Champlins and Hazards were also slave owning plantation owners (You will recognize the names if you are from there). And also on the same page as Cuddymonk: a white governor of Rhode Island listed as Gov. Samuel Potter.

My interest is in adding dimension to the people mocked in racist fables and replacing the caricatures with something more respectful. For example the way that (what’s her name) re-wrote Sojourner Truth’s famous speech in southern plantation dialect when she did not talk that way in her life. Alice Morse Earle does the same thing to her “characters”. I think it is part of undoing white supremacy to make our histories and geography more ‘true’ and more known. Now what I mean by that could fill a book. Moving right along…..

It looked also, in my casual reading, like the Hazards and Robinsons intermarried a bunch and one of that family at least became an abolitionist and did some work to gain freedom for a guy from his town who was detained in the south assumed to be escaped slave and this led to around 100 people there getting out of “detention” ie either jail or slavery. His textile business, not unrelatedly, had to switch from cotton to wool consuming and producing since the Southerners wouldn’t deal with him anymore.

Basically over that 150 years or so, the rich white people intermarried and owned all the land, and the Narragansett and Niantic and Black people intermarried and didn’t. I notice it didn’t seem to occur to Rowland Hazard to give the land back to the still extant Narragansett people as a way of settling up.

Another Hazard that Earle refers to: Caroline Hazard who wrote essays, poetry, and biographies and who was the President of Wellesley College for 10 years. I might look for her books in the Internet Archive. Of course Earle casually mentions her as “Miss Hazard” and her incredibly famous writing. Perhaps they were friends.

It is sad that I am at least happy that Morse Earle includes people of color which leaves some clues and tiny bits of truth along with the garbage racist caricatures. Other books do much worse — for example a multi-volume set “The Early History of Narragansett” has hundreds of pages of detail of every (white) family in the area for a couple of hundred years and all their names including details from their wills but never mentions that they are slave owners leaving human beings to their children in their wills. The Black and Narragansett & Niantic people are just left out of the Early (White Supremacist) history completely. You have to work to do that kind of disappearing.

Another example: In the Narragansett Historical Society’s short description of the area’s overall history, there is no mention of the history of slavery, of black residents over the years, or of the ongoing history of the Narragansett tribe’s people.

Here is another interesting collection of info from 1700s and early 1800s on people of color in Rhode Island mentioned in letters and manuscripts: http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/PeopleofColorweb.htm

In case you were wondering about Bonnet Shores, it was mostly Wesquage Farm and Bonnet Point before the mid 19th century, thought to be called that because the shape of the Point looked a bit like the bonnet of a ship’s jib (a small sail at the bottom of the jib).

bonnet point aerial view

OK…. sometimes this is what I do with my evenings… to relax…..

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Making a puzzle scavenger hunt

I spent most of today working on the map and puzzles for A.’s birthday party in the park. My sister is drawing kick ass badges for the two teams, the Dragonthorne and Bloodsphinx clans, which will go onto the little booklet with map and runes and the doggerel that contains the hints. Her designs are so cool that I want to also print temporary tattoos for the clans.

I re-read the entire Vorkosigan series last week (or so) and now am re-reading Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds so that I can catch up on this series which is now a trilogy, Poseidon’s Children.

Also up soon on my reading list is Crystal Society by Max Harms, which sounds very amusing!

My mom is visiting and we went to spend an afternoon at Land’s End and Ocean Beach. Perfect day for it!

liz-purple-sunglasses

Danny and I also went out and had a drink at Virgil’s Sea Room where I was also able to groove out to a band next door at El Rio (great bar but too crowded for me to get around well in my scooter) playing Cuarto de Tula. We went over to Ruben’s cupcake house where he fed us thin mints or something and made us watch horrible videos like Becky and Joe’s Creativity Song and the fucking brilliant ad for Cloaxia. Make yours a bird hole!

I am just over halfway through my first draft of translating Mi Lai by Carmen Berenguer. I’m getting to the poems about San Francisco and a long one about being on an airplane (a theme I particularly love).

Meanwhile, I am reading Altazor by Vicente Huidobro in the original and with Eliot Weinberger’s translation. I learned a lot reading his translations of Octavio Paz in the 80s and it is cool to see how he approached Huidobro. Of course I love the end bits where language flies free. Nothing is more fun to translate than the untranslatable!!

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Too Many Books

Today I have been enjoying “So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance” by Gabriel Zaid, a tiny and beautifully typeset book about books.

“Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant. If a person read a book a day, he would be neglecting to read four thousand others, published the same day. In other words, the books he didn’t read would pile up four thousand times faster than the books he did read, and his ignorance would grow four thousand times faster than his knowledge.”

Playful bullshit, still better than what usually passes for an essay! I’m so pleased.

My reading list lately:

* Beverly Cleary’s early autobiography. (Good!)
* The Annihilation of Caste by B.R. Ambedkar, which had a “preface” which was really another entire (great) book, by Arundhati Roy. I loved her preface so much.
* Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, a tantalizingly fabulous science fiction novella
* The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems by the entirely adorable Henry Petroski (Don’t start here with him, start with The Evolution of Useful Things if you don’t want to drill 900 pages into pencils or bookshelves; otherwise, if you are hard core, read the Pencil book or the book on Bookshelves) I really can’t gush enough about his books but you have to be that kind of person who will read a 900 age book about the design of pencils through history and make everyone around you listen to you talk about it.
* Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin; geologist magicians and terrible catastrophe, well worth a read, violent and intense so be warned. Mindblowingly awesome.
* Court of Fives by Kate Elliott. Kind of Hunger Gamesy but not so pandering and silly. Fun. Fight against patriarchy by your forbidden engagement in weird, dangerous, ritual, extreme sport! Weird death magic!
* Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho; magic in alternate London, fluffy and fun (but not embarrassingly bad like Carriger)
* All 5 of the Gail Carriger Soulless series (Ridiculous fluff; book 4 was the best)
* The Dandelion Cottage books, a girls’ series from 1905 (So racist and classist, and so interesting of a package)
* Ancillary Mercy, which grows on me though it’s not what I thought it would be. I have analysis! It is not a repeat of books 1 or 2 in the series. It
* The Maker’s Mask books by Ankaret Wells (SF lost colony of manners, with giant raptors and replicators)
* Nigerians in Space, which was excellent and also not what I thought it would be (in much the same ways as it wasn’t what the characters thought it would be)
* The entire Steerswoman series because I thought there were bits where Ankaret Wells paid homage and then I just wanted it for comfort value. It holds up to re-reading beautifully. If you like adventuring scientist librarian archivists with swords (and satellites)…. read this.
* Burmese Days by George Orwell. You can just keep reading more George Orwell infinitely over your lifespan, and keep concluding about what an asshole he is, but kind of an interesting angsty asshole. But this book is not to be bothered with unless you have just read all of Amitav Ghosh’s books, which I just did a couple of months ago, in which case, go for it
* The Sand and Beacon books by Hugh Howey, which are like the rest of his books,
* Dragon’s Eye by Joel Champetier (translated to English) A good interstellar spy novel.
* The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (I read her bio of her uncles and loved it, then was scared to read her fiction in case it didn’t live up; I like Novalis or did when I was like 14; I could imagine so many ways it could be a book I would want to throw across the room — and it is really a great book, don’t be scared!)

I think that reaches back into August. This list is from the list of things read recently that I recommend to people (depending on what they like).

Can’t remember if I already said this several months ago but, just go read all of Cixin Liu’s short fiction that’s translated to English. It doesn’t matter what you like to read — it’s that likeable and cool. Note to self: come up with suggested reading order for his short fiction. Oh, no, I guess I’ll have to read them all again and take notes. Noooooooooooo, help!

Cute photo, not of books, but of some friends at a party this weekend. I went to a party! In the night time! Rare event. pHoto description: some people on a couch making faces and sticking out their tongues. Some details: cute overalls, arm warmers, dyed hair, glasses of wine.

Nope party

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Racism in the (white supremacist) women’s suffrage movement (and some history)

A couple of years ago I wrote a little zine called Heterodoxy to Marie. Not even sure how I got onto the subject, but in looking up Marie Jenney Howe I got pissed off that she didn’t even rate a Wikipedia article but had a paragraph in her husband’s article. She was part of a group of radical women in New York City who called themselves Heterodoxy. I want to touch on that but in order to lead to the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago, and another group, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority from Howard, along with Ida B. Wells.

You can download Heterodoxy to Marie here, it’s a fairly small PDF. Print it double sided, & cut and fold, for a tiny 8 page book.

In one sprawling tentacle of my reading I ended up with descriptions of the 1913 Suffrage Parade (or Procession, or March) in Washington, D.C. with Inez Mulholland at the head on a white horse and hundreds of women marching behind in fancy sashes and amazing hats. There were contingents of representatives from many U.S. states. The atmosphere in DC at their near daily protests was brutal. People would crowd around and assault the picketers and marchers. My impression is that there was an attempt to create a spectacle of dignity and legitimacy in this march.

Anyway, part of the story of the march is that Ida B. Wells was there from Chicago, and was told not to march with the delegates from Illinois, but to go to the back of the march. Wells then sprung out from the crowd and joined the Illinois delegation anyway, flanked by two of her (white) comrades. This is the photo that shows up to illustrate the story, showing Wells with a starry sash, turban-like starry hat, and flag and one that says “Illinois” in front of a banner that reads Women’s Party, Cook County.

Ida Wells at 1913 march in sash

That story varies from source to source, and even varies when told by the same people at different times. I found it a worthy subject of investigation. One telling is that Alice Paul (or “her organization”) found out about Wells’ participation at the last minute, and that some of the southern state delegates objected, saying they’d pull out from the march if Wells was allowed to appear with the Illinois women. Other stories spin it differently, naming various other women in NAWSA who put the black women at the back of the march flanked by white Quaker men for their protection. There are a lot of small variants, and it would take serious work to straighten them out. That’s why I haven’t written about this yet: I was making a small zine about Wells to follow up on the one about Marie Jenney.

It is in some ways lovely to picture Wells bursting into the Illinois delegates and in other ways so perturbing. She would have had to struggle through an extremely hostile crowd just to get to the edge of the march. At least a hundred women were hospitalized after the DC march. How did she fight her way through that crowd? How would it feel, I have some inklings of how it would feel, to proudly march with her sash on, in her elegant hat, amidst the banners, knowing the extra armor you would have to wear inside your soul. She is a compelling hero.

I think of how bad ass Wells-Barnett was in general. If you have not read her 1895 book The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States, you should really give it a try. It’s very grim and horrifying. She also tears into Frances Willard’s racist poisonous remarks on lynching and “dark-faced mobs”… So you can see right in Wells’ work that it’s not like feminist activists in Britain weren’t aware of what was up. You can be all like “oh they were just ‘of their time’…” since we know there were awesome anti racist activists among the super gross white supremacist feminist ones like Willard.

One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” — Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Another dimension to the miniscule zine on Jenney is that I read some of her propaganda, including a play called Telling the Truth at the White House (1917) in which two white suffragists go to jail and then to court. Their adventure with the law is framed by two drunk black women providing comic relief, and then having the vote consdescendingly explained to them. They are presented as incapable of understanding anything about suffrage movement, but agreeing that surely they would trust these nice white ladies to go ahead and vote. This little play is truly, truly vile. And it isn’t alone, if you poke around in the propaganda fiction, plays, and speeches of white suffragists there are many examples where white women point out, mock, and revile the ignorance of black men and women, as a deliberate counterpoint to white women being denied the vote. It was part of many white suffragists’ strategy to appeal to racism. This filled me with cold fury as I thought of the many African American women who were their contemporaries who were fighting for their rights. It is such a blatant disrepect, that they rhetorically make the black women and men disappear from the public debate except as unworthy of participating in political life. If you think to Frederick Douglass’s deep involvement and the entire abolition movement’s years of being intertwined with suffrage movement across the U.S. and England (look it up… I can’t write a dissertation here… ) it is such a cruel and repeated slap in the face by the white women, I can’t even. It’s not even just stupid and ignorant like those tshirts; it looks very deliberate. They are trading on the currency of white supremacy to scrabble for a scrap of power. Like I said, vile.

Have a look at the books “Treasonous Texts” and “On to Victory: Propaganda Plays of the Women Suffrage Movement” for some interesting food for thought.

Back to Wells and the 1913 March and the complicated story. Some stories say Wells fundraised with her black women’s club in Chicago, the Alpha Suffrage Club. Some say that 35 or so members of the Alpha Suffrage Club went to DC and marched. (But where? At the back?) I’ve seen descriptions that say Wells was the only black woman at the march, a lone hero bursting in…. Refusing to stay (or go at all) to the back of the march, supported and protected by white women friends from her home town. Then, I read that the National Association of Colored Women sent several delegations to the march, joining the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. I’ve also seen claims that the Delta Sigma Thetans were the only black women at the march, or that Wells was part of their sorority group. IN short, history is confusing, and people write terrible little summaries of “what happened”. Another tantalizing detail: the staging area for the black women was separate from the main march’s staging area. I can find no description of them marching or their position, and no photos.

If you think of demonstrations or marches you have been part of, try to imagine reconstructing how it was planned, what actually happened, and so on! Very difficult! A big event happens in many dimensions. Alice Paul didn’t “plan” the 1913 march, it was organized by

There is very good stuff in the book “African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920”. You can get it used online very cheap.

Both the ASC and Delta Sigma Theta are said to be formed just before the march, in order to support sending its members as a group.

I feel sure that there is more info out there about the Alpha Suffrage Club and its members, and their participation in the 1913 march. The ASC held regular meetings in Bridewell Prison and I believe it included some white women, or at least had some local white suffrage activists as allies.

There is more readily available information on the sorority from Howard though. They formed in January 1913, with 22 founding members; going to the march together was their first public act. I enjoyed looking at the photos of the founders. Their names are listed here and there is an awesome photo of them at http://www.sopalmbeachdst.com/spbcac/national-history/

Founderscrisp1

Here are their names: (First Row): Winona Cargile Alexander, Madree Penn White, Wertie Blackwell Weaver, 
Vashti Turley Murphy, Ethel Cuff Black, Frederica Chase Dodd; 
(Second Row): Osceola Macarthy Adams, Pauline Oberdorfer Minor, Edna Brown Coleman, 
Edith Mott Young, Marguerite Young Alexander, Naomi Sewell Richardson, Eliza P. Shippen;
(Third Row): Zephyr Chisom Carter, Myra Davis Hemmings, Mamie Reddy Rose, Bertha Pitts Campbell, 
Florence Letcher Toms, Olive Jones, Jessie McGuire Dent, Jimmie Bugg Middleton, Ethel Carr Watson.

Anyway, I have a point besides throwing a little perspective on some small specific ways the U.S. white women’s suffrage movement expressed white supremacy and racism. That point is that white women suffragists’ oppression by the police and state didn’t stop quite a few of them from being horrible racists. So let’s not forget that.

But my other point is that in the story telling and history making about Wells as hero we should not lose sight of the 22 young women from Howard who also marched, and Mary Church Terrell along with all the women from the National Association of Colored Women and their different delegations, who also marched.

People came from many countries to march in DC for women’s suffrage, and I don’t know the details there but it would be neat to find out more. I don’t like when a complicated story, even of one incident in one day a hundred years ago, is simplified beyond all possibility.

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Revolutionary hilarity

Lots of people coming over lately, which makes me happy! Tea and pastries on the back patio!

I went to an intense and strange poetry reading, or performance thing, at the East Bay Media Center in Berkeley. It was weird enough to have its own name: Iapetus. My friend Steve Arntson organized it, and true to his long-form genius it was set up to give us all a lot of time to explore words and sound. I had the feeling that everyone who came to it was ready for that and willing to hear anyone with the mic do something unusual, take us all on a trip.

Iapetus Berkeley flyer

Steve opened by reciting a 15 or 20 minute holographic poem on the theme of bones, full of natural history like no other poem about bones you’ve ever heard. He was fantastic. I had to just laugh with pleasure many times throughout. I got up next reading a couple of short things, my translation of Mariblanca Sabás Alomá’s Poema de la mujer aviadora que quiere atravesar el Atlántico, explaining first that I would shout whenever the poet busted into capital letters. It was well received. You can’t read out this poem without giggling and shaking your fist at the sky (if you are me). Then I read a couple of other short-ish things including my poem about Pat Nixon in China, a thing about time and memory and children, and a segment of my poem about Henry Ford (which I can’t seem to finish).

Liz iapetus

Highlights of the strange hours to follow: the guy on guitar doing quiet tone poems behind us, Dr. Hal in an australian bush hat endlessly reciting Dylan Thomas W.S. Merwin, and one I liked very much called Under the Vulture Tree by David Bottoms. (Even if it does suffer from the “hummmmm” problem at the end.) And a crapload of William Blake. Managing to infuse it with a hint of creepyness. Then Clara Hsu creating a meditative atmosphere with one of those tibetan bronze bowl thingies, singing the Langston Hughes poem about rain, more things about rain, a poem about Cuba, and a Bach prelude of words about being in a city which I wasn’t sure if I would like but in the end, felt like cheering at how she carried it off. A guy named Tom Stolmar rapid fire ranting with a lot of pop culture and a bitter aftertaste. Fragments of my notes: “Welcome to the endless high school reunion” Something something Morocco, almost went to Paul Bowles’ house, nose surgery, imploding tootsie roll Marky Mark toastmaster creamsicle”. I’m sure that was not all in the same poem. It’s a good sign when I laugh during your poem since if I were laughing in the way of hating it I would be more polite. I also now describe this guy as “the guy who says ‘horripilating'”. Mary Marcia who I remember from Waverly Writers at the Quaker Meeting house in Palo Alto got up and read a slow poem about a million kinds of birds then played on a thumb piano and a Harpo Mark horn. There was another point where someone got up and kind of beatboxed their way through Jimi Hendrix’s entire performance of the Star Spangled Banner complete with explosion sound effects which was slightly hard to tolerate but also amazing. Deborah Fruchey read some poems but my note-taking hand fell off by that point. Someone whose name I didn’t catch performed a long and very disturbing piece that was like a conversational fugue about dating and sex and abuse and rape and relationships. I liked it. And finally ToReadah performed a long piece angrily demanding answers from a “churchman” which she said she normally would not feel comfortable reading. I did not know most people at this reading, as I have not been going out in the past few years to any sort of literary events, just not enough time or energy. Maybe it’s time to put my toe back in the water.

It was not your average poetry reading! There will be a video of this event (I heard that when Steve gets back from Burning Man in October we will get a DVD). Why in October? Is he walking back from Nevada? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Meanwhile, in books, I read a great book by Danez Smith, Black Movie.

. . . . . This movie is about a neighborhood of royal folks —

children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles — saving their town
from real-ass dinosaurs. I don’t want some cheesy yet progressive
Hmong sexy hot dude hero with a funny yet strong commanding
black girl buddy-cop film. This is not a vehicle for Will Smith
& Sofia Vergara. I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors

with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty,
screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two.
I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick
through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck. . . .

Good stuff!!! And an excellent book!

I also read Ho Chi Minh’s Prison Diary translated by Dang The Binh and with a forward by Phan Nhuan. Came across this because it was quoted in Huey P. Newton’s book Revolutionary Suicide. I was most struck by “Reading the ‘Anthology of a Thousand Poets'”, the one Newton quoted, and the poem about a milestone (which made me cry a little). While this is not my favorite translation style (rhyming, formalist), I read a few other translations online and got the flavor of what’s happening enough to enjoy the book very much. But possibly the best thing is that my cheap used copy ordered off Amazon was printed in Hanoi in 1972, with truly beautiful layout and typography and everything about the book design, including the art. (Drawings by Tran Van Can and Nguyen Do Cung. Jacket Design by Nguyen Tho. Printed at Tien Bo Press, Democratic Republic of Vietnam.) It is also inscribed in the front in Vietnamese to Robert Miller, dated 1975, and I can’t read the signature but would guess it may be signed by the translator. Now while Bob Miller is a common name I can’t think who would be in Hanoi in 1975 other than Robert L. Miller, illustrious author of “Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage” and “Indochina and Vietnam: The Thirty-Five Year War”. Bob, I have your Ho Chi Minh book! Why’d you let it go?! And can you tell us the story of how you got it?

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Reading some history

This week I read Elaine Brown’s autobiography, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. What an excellent read! It is very dramatic and full of situations that had me screaming with surprise or outrage or sadness, and sometimes with celebration of Brown’s fierceness or laughing with affection for her when she would start describing some guy’s cheekbones and you know she was about to fall into bed with him. A book that led me to look up many events and many different people and to line up more reading. I have so many questions! I’m not going to summarize the events though. I am in the middle of Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton now, enjoying it more than I thought I would based on how mad I got at him from Elaine Brown’s book. Also I have lined up Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and Their Legacy edited by Kathleen Cleaver and George Katsiaficas as well as Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.

One thing that struck me was the moment when Brown describes her anger at Gwen Fontaine (who has just gotten married to Newton while they were in Cuba) and then how she sees Gwen suddenly as a sister, resolving to respect her mind and work. I noticed this alongside how she describes Kathleen Cleaver — never getting to that point of respecting anything about her but seeing her in that same way she saw Gwen, as a patsy or a sucker following her man and taking abuse unquestioningly. I had to roll my eyes since Brown also is in love with various men in the Party and takes abuse from them too. It just shouldn’t delegitimize any of the women’s work or their politics that they are in a relationship with … anyone. But I also got very curious about Kathleen Cleaver (because Brown disses her so badly – mostly by passing over her). Naturally as soon as I looked it was clear that Cleaver was super legit, was intensely politically active and known as an effective writer and great speaker. As Brown describes her she was just hanging out looking pretty, getting pregnant and smacked around by Eldridge. More than anything else this undermined my desire to trust Brown even halfway.

Now let’s not even go into the level of what the fuck, as Bobby Seale orders her to get actually whipped on her back in a basement of the party headquarters for not putting more of his articles into the newspaper. Seriously what the fuck, all around.

Another thing that left me with a million questions was the book’s ending. What about those other women from the Central Committee? What happened next? After they broke Regina Davis’ jaw in the name of party discipline. It is very ominous. When I look them up (only casually so far) they’re mostly mentioned in paraphrases from this very book. I want to know more about their work together.

And then even more questions about Elaine Brown’s amazing strategic politics in Oakland and plans with the mayor, governor (Jerry Brown) and others and her thoughts on what could happen if she and the Party controlled 10,000 jobs in downtown Oakland. And then the Port of Oakland itself and then having some momentum to get Jerry Brown the Democratic presidental nomination. Super fascinating! What if that had happened? An excellent alternate history to write. I can’t help but admire her grab for political power. Maybe her socialist approach to distributing those jobs would have worked a little better than whatever else was going on.

It took me a bit of background reading to wrap my mind around the split in the Black Panther Party(s) Between Huey P. Newton and Elaine Brown and their faction vs. Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. OK so in a nutshell, Newton and Brown don’t like the “revolution right now” style talk of the Cleaver faction or at least of Eldridge himself. The Cleaver bunch were super pissed off that the Oakland BPP had turned reformist. Well, meanwhile Brown along with the women (and men) she appointed to powerful postions were gathering people and power, then Newton rolled back into town and fucked everything up with his macho trip and drug addiction. (& his support for patriarchal power in general despite what he writes… which I want to believe as I read it even now…) Brown accuses Newton of destroying the organization and trust that she built.

And, according to at least the beginning of Kathleen Cleaver’s book, the BPP basically ended in 71 before Brown even was leading. Now that’s a dismissal right back…. how harsh!

Everybody is complicated!

Anyway, Elaine Brown wrote a great book very useful for getting into the mind set of people forming and coming into the BPP but is somewhat unreliable as a narrator and since so many others involved wrote about it all, it’s good to read them too.

The bits of Cleaver’s work that I’ve read so far, she speaks to me pretty strongly,

In fact, according to a survey Bobby Seale did in 1969, two-thirds of the members of the Black Panther Party were women. I am sure you are wondering, why isn’t this the image that you have of the Black Panther Party? Well, ask yourself, where did the image of the Black Panthers that you have in your head come from? Did you read those articles planted by the FBI in the newspaper? Did you listen to the newscasters who announced what they decided was significant, usually, how many Panthers got arrested or killed? How many photographs of women Panthers have you seen? Think about this: how many newspaper photographers were women? How many newspaper editors were women? How many newscasters were women? How many television producers were women? How many magazine, book, newspaper publishers? Who was making the decisions about what information gets circulated, and when that decision gets made, who do you think they decide to present? Is it possible, and this is just a question, is it possible that the reality of what was actually going on day to day in the Black Panther Party was far less newsworthy, and provided no justification for the campaign of destruction that the intelligence agencies and the police were waging against us? Could it be that the images and stories of the Black Panthers that you’ve seen and heard were geared to something other than conveying what was actually going on?

Yes!!! That’s true of just about everything. You look beyond the surface and there are women doing the work (too) and the processes of history formation start to leave them out until there’s just a couple left and then maybe just one —

Honoring the sisters poster

Meanwhile, thinking of this from an epigraph in Newton’s book —

Ho Chi Minh’s “Wordplay”:

A man, once freed from jail, will build his country.
Misfortune is the test of loyalty.
He earns great merit who feels great concern.
Unlock the cage – the true dragon will fly.

or translated another way,

People who come out of prison can build up a country.
Misfortune is a test of people’s fidelity.
Those who protest at injustice are people of true merit.
When the prison doors are opened, the real dragon will fly out.

Good to have a little grounding as #BlackLivesMatter protests continue and deepen. People try to watch the cops with cameras and report on them more closely, rejecting the bullet for the …. camera and I guess, the ballot. I don’t have any faith in either bullet or ballot. Our images and words will move people or at least speak to the future. This isn’t anyone’s first go-round and it won’t be the last and when it heats up the backlash is horrible. Though the horror is already unspeakable with our daily acceptance of our lives within the prison industrial complex — vile complicity.

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Sub-ether message

Quote of the day, because it’s silly and perfect! Give it a dramatic reading if you dare.

The photophonic visiscreen before Ranger brightened with the image of a stocky reptilian creature that looked vaguely humanoid. Its facial scales flushed violet with pleasure as it said: “Captain Farstar! Greetings from Newtonia. How pleased I am to see you again.” The being spoke good Unilingo that was only faintly slurred by a vague hissing.
“Greetings, Dr. Clay. My blood temperature is increased by your warmth,” Ranger said, using the semi-formal greeting ritual of Cretacia, the director’s native planet. “Did you receive my sub-ether message?”

This is from the opening chapter of The Treasure of Wonderwhat. I note that their ship is named “The Gayheart”.

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Put a gear on it: The Art of Steampunk

This morning I’m reading the gorgeous review copy of The Art of Steampunk (the revised second edition). Its full title is The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement. It’s a coffee table paperback, with beautiful photos of steampunk art and short articles, focused on the 2009-2010 Steampunk exhibit at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science.

The photos are awesome, glossy and often full-page, and I liked having a collection of them. The art is admirable! I especially enjoyed Mikhail Smolyanov’s motorcycles and Jessica Joslin’s mechanical animals.

Jessica joslin animal

My favorite art piece by far is Joey Marsocci’s Amelia Earhart Navigational System which has a brain in a bubbling, steaming jar on top of what looks like a wooden radio cabinet and which you can type on to get audio clips of Amelia Earhart’s voice (as a paranormal connection). It looks completely amazing, and I’m a sucker for anything that’s a complex framing of history. Here’s a short video about the piece:

Richard Nagy’s steampunk laptop designs are also just great!

As I read The Art of Steampunk this morning I spent some very enjoyable time looking up the artists and their work. I think this book could be a fun starting point for anyone interested in adding some biographies to Wikipedia, and their notability is easily sourced.

I am very fond of analyzing anthologies, who is in them and why, how genres or cultures are defined, looking at who’s in the index or table of contents, and so on, all in a political context. It is a lifetime habit! As maybe is obvious from my enormous anthology project on Spanish-American women poets I particularly like to look at the inclusion and non-inclusion of women.

Of the 17 artists featured in the museum exhibition, or at least in the book’s description of the exhibition, only 2 are women. The book’s introduction says,

Although it’s technocentric in styling, Steampunk design is definitely not just a “boy’s club” of enthusiasts. Its fans and creators are equally divided among women and men, young and old alike, from around the world.

Claims to diversity stand out to me in anthologies when they are not actually reflected in the work represented. It would be better, I think, to acknowledge the diversity represented — in this case artists from several different countries — and also acknowledge where it is lacking or flawed.

A section at the front shows work and biographical profiles for eight more artists whose work was perhaps not known to the book’s editor until after the exhibition, and the work featured dates from after 2009. 6 of these 8 artists are women. I note it as an improvement in apparent diversity in the book, even if it was not reflected in the museum exhibition.

I was somewhat annoyed, in this context, that the book’s editor referred to Mary Shelley in another attempt to be “diverse”, but spelled her name wrong.

While reading this book I thought of postcolonialist steampunk and Jaymee Goh’s blog Silver Goggles, always worth reading. I like her critiques of racism and colonialism in steampunk communities and the framing of “what steampunk is”. Beyond Victoriana: A Multicultural Perspective on Steampunk by Ay-leen also explores, well, actual diversity in the culture and its representation.

Beyond Victoriana is the oldest-running blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism–that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework. Founded in 2009, Beyond Victoriana focuses on non-Western cultures, underrepresented minorities in Western histories (Asian / Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, First Nation, Hispanic, black / African & other marginalized identities), and the cultural intersection between the West and the non-West.

The Art of Steampunk didn’t overtly focus on pith helmets and celebrations of colonialism but it does not go deep into the possibilities despite its sweeping claims of diversity. So while I love the book, I wish that there were more of it!

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