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Look, Wait, and Listen

We are fickle.
By the second spring rain,
We are already waiting
for summer to come.
We are so fickle.

We see, and feel,
The drops of water
come against our faces,
And we shiver, congested,
feeling inconvenienced.

Someone lets us sleep in, or
Does a chore, or runs an errand,
and after briefly feeling grateful,
Soon we find some new minor hindrance
to raise a ruckus about.

It is still raining, though—
If you pay attention.
And the slick sound of the cars
rolling past and far away
somehow fails to marvel you.

Perhaps out in the world,
An airplane full of people waits
for the rain to clear. At the delay,
The people still feel some minor irritation
even once they are lifted into the heavens.

There is so much to fear, to loathe, to waste—
But how emptied life becomes,
When all the marks and blips of beauty
are left to fester, turned to sludge,
amidst all that is wrong in the moment.

The beauty that surrounds us
Is not of a single moment, but transcends
And is waiting, on both sides of the traffic,
For our attention to return, to set in,
But only if we are ready.

Someday, when you can, if you can,
Go out in the nighttime, while it still rains,
Walk aimlessly, or run some errand,
And allow your face to be painted upon
with a thousand miraculous raindrops.

Because even if we all must inevitably return
To market conditions and interpersonal relations,
Along with all the many petty shocks of living—
There is some strength in mundane beauty,
sought and caught from outside of time:

not much, but perhaps enough.

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Health Care Defeat

When I heard the news that the GOP were going to hold a vote, a piece of my heart broke. And when I woke up today to discover that they had passed the bill, another part broke. And I can imagine a world in which more and more pieces of my heart continue to break, as I continue to break, as I proceed to fall apart.

I’m relatively lucky that for the next six years, my Ph.D. program has agreed to pay the cost of my health insurance. But as we’re learning, in the aftermath of the GOP passing a bill many of them admit they have not read, if the bill is ultimately signed by President Trump, it will likely affect all health insurance plans, even those issued through one’s workplace like mine. I likely have little to fear, but I know what it’s like not to go to the doctor because of an inability to pay. I know how scary that can be. And I’m heartbroken that it’s on its way to being the law of the land once more.

When Obamacare finally passed and it was clear that we had finally won, I posted on Facebook, “Free at last, free at last”, because to me, the corporations that had been deciding who should live or die for decades had finally lost out, they had finally lost their almighty powers, and so we the People had thus finally been freed from one of the most extensive and horrific systems of economic oppression still running untouched.

I was younger then. I never would have expected the country’s elected officials to swing so far to the right, and I never would have expected that they would replace Obamacare with a bill that likely only funds 1/3 (at best) of those with pre-existing conditions. Suddenly, for the first time in years, I’m afraid of my public admittance to severe cases of depression and anxiety, knowing that someday those statements could affect my insurance options. And I’m struck, in utter horror, at the things that will likely count as a pre-existing condition under the new bill, such as rape.

When I heard the news that the GOP were going to hold a vote, a piece of my heart broke. And when I woke up today to discover that they had passed the bill, another part broke. And I can imagine a world in which more and more pieces of my heart continue to break, as I continue to break, as I proceed to fall apart.

But I refuse to be despondent. I refuse to lose my hope. I refuse to give up on the innocent dream that I held all those years ago that, someday, no one would ever again have to worry about paying for essential health care in the United States. We are better than that, even if our congress(wo)men haven’t figured it out yet.

I’m hurting now. I’m hurting just as I have hurt everyday since November 8th. But I’m going to continue to write my heart out here, and as I move to Michigan, I’m going to find ways to get involved with local politics. As so many of us have learned, politics is a contact sport, one in which people can die, and so we have to get out on the field and fight for what we believe in.

Because, ultimately, they may win battle after battle. They may undo the legacy of President Obama. They may break off pieces of our hearts, again and again. But we have seen what can be done. We have seen full health care reform pass. You cannot put the genie back into the bottle now, no matter how hard they try. We know what we are fighting for, and we know that it is worth it.

To everyone who reads this and is feeling broken today–that’s okay. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to be worried about your family or about your own health insurance. I am, too. They truly have hit us where it hurts. But before we’re done, we will make them pay, we will make them hurt, for what they’ve done today. Keep engaged, stay angry, make it clear that House members who voted for this monstrosity will face hard reelections, and turn the pressure up on the Senate now. Because if they see how precarious their colleagues in the House have become because of this vote, they may think twice–or at least take the time to read the damn thing.

Stay strong, friends.

How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the Bomb

A long post describing why some kind of intervention, military or diplomatic, is desperately needed re: North Korea, and why we should avoid conspiracy theories on the subject:

Across social media, I have seen two recurrent themes when people discuss the North Korean debacle. The first is that they do not understand why the White House is escalating things now—i.e., many are unsure what the point is. The second theme is an answer to the first, namely the suggestion that Trump and the administration are racketing up to war in order to improve his approval ratings. This theory tends to point toward Syria, and the suspect (short-term) boost in his ratings—although, in reality, said boost was more like a blip, and seems to have had little lasting power. Regardless, this line of thought suggests that Trump does not actually care about Korea, nor do his generals, nor does his State Department—they are, instead, inventing a crisis for no discernable reason other than self-interest.

I can’t speak to what the Administration is trying to accomplish. Honestly, I’m not even sure they know what they’re trying to accomplish. However, I do want to address and push back against those who do not see North Korea as a crisis point and who are suspicious of the sudden interest paid to them now.

Most of my followers do not remember a time before the Korean War. Indeed, almost all of us have spent our entire lives with the reality of the North Korean dictatorship, to the point that it seems a natural part of geopolitics and world affairs. From movies that make fun of the regime—there have been many—to jokes about the differences between “good” and “bad” or “naughty” Korean, we can see that people have never acknowledge any potent reason for Americans to worry about the situation. Or, rather, we can see that the combination of North Korea’s normalcy (given that we have always been at war with North Korea, but have not paid the price for said war in generations) and the inconsequential stakes (what’s the worst they can do to us, after all) leads to a feeling of disinterested or humorous engagement with the North Koreans.

This laissez-faire mindset concerning North Korea, so thoroughly entrenched in American society for decades, is both wrongheaded and dangerous.

First, I am distressed that many of the same people who have posted so emotionally about the horrors of the Syrian Civil War, the kind of people who post “Never again” with deep earnestness, are now so sure that the Administration could have no reason to despise North Korea’s government. In simple terms, the North Korean government with its dictatorial withholding of basic human rights from its population of over twenty million people is the longest lasting fully authoritarian state in world history and likely one of, if not the single, worst crimes against humanity ever. When we read or see accounts of people living in this truly police state, you must—or at least, I must—realize that this is a degree of dehumanization rarely seen on such a large scale anywhere else in history. The causalities may be lower than those caused by Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan, I don’t know, but the degree to which the government controls each and every facet of everyday life is chilling and without precedent. There has never been so effective a police state with such a degree of success in operating its authoritarian power structure for so long ever before. We are numb to this fact because it has always been a part of life for us, but when you judge the US for not intervening in World War II sooner, for not attending to the Holocaust, for not stopping whatever pet human rights disaster you happen to be passionate about, realize that we have all accepted and been silent in the face of true and prolonged evil. The United States has allowed the continuance of a corrupt, despotic, demonic state for over half a century.

There have been many pragmatic reasons for doing so, of course. The USSR and China limited our ability to intervene, as did the apathy expressed worldwide and at home during and after our stint in armed conflict. Moreover, since North Korea acquired nuclear technology, we have felt unable to do anything for fear that it might cause imminent and unimaginable destruction in South Korea. These are legitimate reasons for failing to act, I think, but they do not mitigate or erase the immorality of inaction; they should not allow us to feel righteous or accomplished, as we have allowed this denial of basic human rights and basic human needs to continue.

The situation at present, however, is due to change. While North Korea has repeatedly failed in its missile launch attempts, eventually they will have the technology to threaten major cities in China, Japan, and someday the United States. When that day comes, military action will become totally impossible, and diplomatic action even more meaningless. At present, the causalities from an attack by North Korea would be without precedent; in ten or twenty years at the most, such an attack could be worldwide and catastrophic—a word that hardly does justice to the potential destruction. It is not a matter of “if” the North Koreans will develop the technology for long-range nuclear missiles. It is a question of “when”. Moreover, it is not currently within our knowhow to stop such a missile as it approaches—Reagan’s dream of a Star Wars–like system to intercept incoming missiles remains a dream, and it likely will long past the North Korean invent of nuclear ICBMs.

Continuing to avoid action, as the United States has since the end of the Korean War, would be to voluntarily allow such a disaster to come to pass. Because once the North Koreans have the ability to nuke a major US city, the chances of such an attack likely grow toward inevitable the longer our dysfunctional relationship and their governmental instability continue. This is not to mention the risks involved if their government crumbles.

Simply put, we are running out of time to disarm North Korea. Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama have failed us in this key way, and the longer we wait, the greater the chances of nuclear holocaust become. This does not mean I endorse the Trump administration’s actions thus far. But I do think we, the public, misread them when we continue under the assumption that there is no reason to rush a solution on the Korean peninsula.

Indeed, there is every reason.

And so, while I do not trust Trump or his team any more than his worst critics, I do understand the rhetoric used by Tillerson and Trump when they talk about how American patience has run out and when they admit that a largescale war may be coming. Because unless we do something soon, even if that something is indescribably destructive, if we fail to act, someday soon the North Koreans will be able to hold our country and the world hostage. They will have the power to initiate widespread destruction, destruction on a scale inconceivable since the fall of the Soviet Union: Except unlike the Soviets, the North Koreans have proven themselves to be mercurial, unreliable, and—frankly—irrational. Simply put, they will likely go from threatening the security of South Koreans to threatening the lives of billions worldwide.

I don’t know what the solution is. And I’m terrified that Trump and his team seem bent on solving it themselves. But I hope that the next time you share a conspiratorial post about how Trump is simply trying to improve his approval ratings, or the next time you make a joke about North Korea, or the next time you insert a comment about how stupid the Administration is acting, you first take a moment to reflect on the future stakes of inaction. And I hope you realize, as I have come to realize, how complicated the situation is, how terrible the choices before us are, and how worried we all should be.

Dollar Bills Walking on the Beach

They say at Fyre, they’re using

Tents bootlegged from disaster relief;

Which makes me think—

We can pay such keen attention

When those who are brought

Far from home and given stiff rations,

Have bought their own damnation.

 

Our fascination comes not at the conditions,

or else we’d witness more of the poor,

But in deference to those who paid good money

and were shorted.

 

In short,

We only care to hear your story

if you can spend tens of thousands

on a luxury music experience—

Otherwise,

We ain’t got the time.

UMich and Misgendering

I spent a chunk of my morning researching best practices for pronouns in the classroom. There aren’t really many surprises: Don’t assume anyone’s pronouns, have your students announce their own pronouns on the first day when they give their names, correct anyone if they misgender another one of your students.

Lots of feelings regarding my future students. TW: misgendering

Within a few years I will be involved in teaching undergraduates as a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan. And at Michigan, starting in my second year, I would begin teaching a section of their mandatory first year writing course. They allow their instructors, even their graduate students, a refreshingly lengthy leash for teaching the course—to set policies, to create a syllabus, and to lead classes on one’s own.

And so, I spent a chunk of my morning researching best practices for pronouns in the classroom. There aren’t really many surprises: Don’t assume anyone’s pronouns, have your students announce their own pronouns on the first day when they give their names, correct anyone if they misgender another one of your students. It’s not perfect—because it puts students in the uncomfortable position of weighing whether to out themselves—but it’s better than only having people with “surprising” or “unexpected” pronouns go out of the way to stick up for themselves, fundamentally ostracizing themselves from the word go. Indeed, the moment I first had a professor ask for everyone in the class’s pronouns in an undergraduate class, I immediately knew it was something I would have my own students do one day if I ever happened to have any.

And now, knowing with some degree of certainty that I will have students in less than two or three years, I’m heartened that at Michigan at least, students can go online and fill in their own pronouns so that they will show up on the class roster. But I’m also heartbroken—because reading through the comment section of the school newspaper article about that change in policy, I found so much anger, and resentment, and irrational hatred. Among others, I found parents bragging that they would never let their kids go to somewhere so misguidedly liberal, an instructor teaching elsewhere saying how glad he was that he’s not at Michigan because of this “pure mental illness”, and an anonymous user daring students, once they have a job, to try to correct the boss’s use of pronouns and to see where that gets them.

I found so much irrational hatred.

One student at Michigan, a right wing activist, filled in his own pronouns online to be “His Majesty”. And what I’m fascinated with about that is how clear its intention is—his choice signals an ostentatious and presumptuous demand, suggesting that simply asking that others use a different set of pronouns is equally unreasonable and delusional. Rhetorically, it’s rather clever, however semantically foul it in fact is.

After spending much of the day on the verge of tears, I finally broke down once my partner got home from work and I told her about my online adventures. And while I don’t want to privilege my cis tears /by any means/, especially in a post-Trump world where trans youth are in such extreme and life threatening danger, I did want to explain those tears.

I don’t know my students yet. But many of them are juniors in high school right now. And if any of them are trans, they have probably been mistreated, almost certainly have been misgendered, and even if they’ve /somehow/ avoided that, they have grown up in a world that seems bent on destroying them. A world full of irrational hatred. And even though I don’t know them yet, I feel so devastated to think of what they might be going through right now, and afraid of what their fellow students in college might say or do to them. It’s like, what if I have a conservative student who refuses to respect another student’s pronouns? There’s not much I can do in that situation other than ask that student to stop or to leave the class and be marked absent for the day. And I have no real reservations about doing that…

But no matter what I do, no matter what kinds of classroom interventions I make, I can’t protect my future students from even that microaggression, let alone protect them when they’re out in the world. I can’t protect them from the world. I can only teach them how to write more clearly, how to edit more devotedly, and how to compose an argument more persuasively.

And I know in some ways it’s a tad self-indulgent, but for today at least, I feel so distraught to think how paltry those skills—however essential they may be—ultimately are in the face of such vast systems of oppression. And I wish that I could offer them something more.

I don’t know if anyone has any insight, but I’d love to hear it if you do.

Poetry After the First Date

We have these ideas in our heads of what authors are based on small snippets of their corpora.

I think one of the really strange pleasures/frustrations of literary study is reading more of an author’s corpus. At the moment, I’m thinking of Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden.

Of the former, I had initially read “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “And death shall have no dominion”, his two most popular poems. Of the latter, I had sought out “The Shield of Achilles”, “Musée des Beaux Arts”, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”. And honestly, I disliked all five poems quite a bit, with Thomas seeming stilted and Auden seeming forced.

As I read more Auden, however, I became deeply enamoured with his deep sensuality and his sensitivity to emotion, politics, and forces beyond our control. More recently, as I’ve read more Thomas, I’ve been surprised at how almost nonsensical his poetry is, how devilishly sly its twists and turns tend to be, and how truly difficult a time I’m having trying to make any headway through it.

We have these ideas in our heads of what authors are based on small snippets of their corpora. To have those ideas challenged is not always pleasant, but it is often rewarding.

Shakesbear

There is a sudden and rather suspicious influx of (often white) bears appearing on the London stage just when the bear cubs were stolen from home and brought to London.

I have now spent a sizeable chunk of my day researching a contention I found on tumblr that the famous bear from /The Winter’s Tale/ was actually a polar bear cub.

This, of course, is in marked contrast to the standard accounts of the bear either being a person in a bear suit (a position that is generally preferred, I think, among more serious critics) or a drugged bear brought in from the fighting pits (a position that is generally preferred, I think, among anyone who has an acute/inflamed imagination).

If you do a simple google search of “Shakespeare Winter’s Tale polar bear”, which is what I did, you’ll find a lot of quasi-(at best)reputable sites claiming that some people believe the bear was one of two polar bear cubs recovered from an arctic expedition. I’m talking blogs and the Royal Opera House’s website as the best you can do. I was further disappointed to find nothing when searching on the MLA Bibliography.

However, even though it took me a long time to find any reputable articles making such a claim, eventually I found two papers by Lowell Duckert and Barbara Ravelhofer, respectfully, that argued for the possibility of the famous pursuing bear being a polar bear. Indeed, such a position seems quite possible given the record, as we know Philip Henslowe had access to the bears that nominally, it seems, King James possessed. Moreover, there is a sudden and rather suspicious influx of (often white) bears appearing on the London stage just when the bear cubs were stolen from home and brought to London.

While there are many respectable scholars who are complete holdouts, such as Stephen Orgel who denies that any bear of the period could have been well enough trained to be safely brought on stage, I think the polar bear theory has merit. If nothing else, even if the pursuing bear was a man in a bear costume, I would bet money (not a lot, but some) that the costume would have been a white one and that such a man would have been recognizably impersonating a polar bear. Given the evidence that at this particular moment polar bears were likely in vogue and a presence in the public’s imagination, I think either Shakespeare jumped on the bandwagon and used one of the cubs in his show or (with the costumed man) was making an effort to poke fun at the common interest in polar bears.

The original tumblr post I saw claimed, as a passing thought, that the “Exit, pursued by bear” line likely represented a meme we had lost track/evidence of. Given the presence of the polar bear cubs in London just when /The Winter’s Tale/ was being staged, even though I’m not sure one of the cubs was used, I am fairly sure that the pursuing bear was memic in nature, at the very least calling back to the polar bear cubs as its antecedent.