Sep 11, 2016

Sunday Links, Mostly

Book pile: Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich, Horses Make a Landscape More Beautiful by Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens by Alice Walker, Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison, The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde
I wanted to check in this Sunday, even though I don’t have a whole lot to say that is of any real substance. I’ve been reading, slowly but excitedly, probably too many books at once. Last week Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby floored me; now I’m reading Jo Walton’s Necessity, and keep accidentally starting new non-fiction titles alongside it. I’m also reading Karen Brodine’s poetry collection Woman Sitting at the Machine, Thinking, about which I suspect I’ll have a lot more to say. Other than that, I’m mostly still thinking about this summer and all that it signified, and enjoying the last of the warm, golden evenings with stops at the park after work. My life has changed a lot in the past year or so; I want to make sense of it through books and then perhaps write about it, but it’s been a slow process.

Yesterday a friend and I went to a used bookshop I’d only been to once before, right after I moved here four years ago. It’s slightly out of the way from where I live and work, so I never happen to just wander past, and somehow I never made the effort to stop by again. I walked out with what just might be the greatest pile of used bookshop finds in my life, which leaves me wondering if visiting more often would be a terrible or an excellent idea. In all seriousness, I’m so excited that I found all these books. Then I came home and spotted a black squirrel in my garden as I was cooking dinner. It was a good day.

Things I’ve been reading:

  • Like so much of the rest of the world, I’ve been obsessed with Blonde these past few weeks. This NPR discussion has some interesting bits about how the album grapples with hegemonic masculinity.

  • V for Volunteer — a dystopian reality. No surprises here, but it’s still dire reading.

  • Dawn Foster’s piece on zero-hours contracts is not new, but it’s still a good antidote to all the rhetoric of context-free “choice” I keep seeing floating around.

  • Sandra Gilbert writes about Adrienne Rich for The American Scholar.

  • Laurie Penny on work:
    Our cultural insistence that paid work is the surest route to well-being and dignity has little basis in fact. For many millions of people, the modern workplace is a blunt insult to both body and soul, but we are invited by our bosses and leaders to agree that exhaustion is a sign of weakness and that despair is a mark of moral deficiency. It should not take a spate of suicides for us to begin to question that logic.
    Mine is fortunately a healthy work environment, for the most part, but still: yes.

  • I really enjoy Briallen Hopper’s writing, and can’t wait for her forthcoming essay collection. Here’s what she wrote about Girls on Fire.

  • This moved me: What Remains: Remembering Michelle Cliff, Beth Brant, and Stephania Byrd by Julie R. Enszer.

    More words soon, I hope.

    Sunset in the park

    1. Blech, zero-hours contracts sounds similar to a lot of the jobs my sister was lately applying for -- it's this kind of thing where they hire you part-time promising, say, 20 hours of a work a week, and you sign on for it and then they give you maybe 10, so your budget's completely fucked. I have no idea what's to be done about the increasing shift to the gig economy, but something has to be. I don't see how this is sustainable.

      I feel so astonishingly fortunate to have a good, stable job. Even if the pay's low (publishing!), I work with good people who I like and who support me, and I have vacation days and health insurance and access to an academic library and it is just all incredibly, incredibly lucky. *hugs job*

      1. I know - I feel exactly the same. Even with the things that frustrate me on occasion (the kind I complain about over e-mail), I feel very, very lucky that my job is relatively stable and that I work with good people who support and encourage each other. Also, although the pay in the public sector is very low, I really appreciate that there isn't a culture of unpaid overtime/taking your work home with you - in fact, our managers actively discourage it. This shouldn't be noteworthy, but it is.

        I'm sorry your sister was in that situation :( Something definitely does need to be done.

    2. Those three links about work, struggling volunteers keeping cultural institutions running, and zero hours contracts are so well linked, and together paint a grim and truthful picture of where we're at as a society right now.

      We’ve already lost so much, the library is under threat and the buses have gone so that threatens the market. The youth club lost funding last year and so did five other youth projects. Pretty soon there will be nothing left to call this a community, it will just be a place with nothing left in it to give anyone culture or pleasure. The only people who will have any kind of pleasure or culture left will be the ones who can afford to pay for it. We all know the council should be funding community resources, and we all know the huge benefit to any community that a museum represents, but no one seems to listen. A lively and thriving community benefits everyone. It makes for a better place to live and so people want to live there. Those people pay council tax and national taxes and they work hard and deserve to see some kind of return in their towns.

      What’s the point in working our whole lives if we have nothing left in our communities to give life more purpose and meaning? How can we hold a community together if there is nothing left to bring people together?

      These are truly the questions we should be asking ourselves, before everything is lost.

      Thank you so much for these links.

      1. You're most welcome - I'm so glad you found them useful <3 That was the passage that struck me the most too from V is for Volunteer. Marilynne Robinson writes about this beautifully in her essay Austerity as Ideology (and some of her others too): what does it mean for a society to decide that the things that give life meaning should be out of reach for some of its members - that life should be cruel and mean and small, that you need to prove yourself "deserving" before you get some respite, and that we should abandon whatever imperfect degree of equality we'd established after centuries of struggle?

    3. It's often the people who have full-time jobs with benefits who have the time to write about other kinds of jobs, and I think there's an element of wishing in the rhetoric about choice. Sure, it was my choice to take a part-time job. The other choice was not to have a job.

    4. There are so many thoughtful comments here, and I am compelled to ask about the black squirrel (which I also saw in your Twitter stream today). Are they uncommon where you are? They are not uncommon here, but white ones are, and I saw one of those recently, so I do understand the kind of excitement you have over your "discovery" even though I find it myself in a variation on the theme! :)

      1. Yes, they are! There's only one known large population in the UK, in an area not far from where I am, but I didn't know they had made it into the city. And until the other day I'd never spotted one in person, and now I've been seeing it every day. It makes me happy :D

      2. Have you found some goodies that you can share with it? We feed "ours" peanuts and sunflower seeds (some of "ours" have clear preferences, once you get to know them) but occasionally give them an almond or two, which they adore. One especially loves brazil nuts, which we don't often buy in the house, but I'm happy to share one with her now and then! Enjoy your new friend. :)

      3. I added some hazelnuts to this week's groceries order - fingers crossed that she likes them! I'll let you know how it goes :D

    5. Your post reminded my that I have at least 3 Jo Walton books on my ereader that I have been meaning to read. Perhaps in October!

    6. That V for Volunteer piece is heartbreaking. I really appreciate that the author asked these questions and was able to get the ground truth of what it is like for a museum to run entirely on donations and volunteers. The zero-hour contracts story is a nightmare.

      I am also really looking forward to Briallen Hopper's book of essays. She's excellent at both the literary criticism and tying it in with great personal storytelling.


    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.