it's been hot as balls this last week or two, and it's no secret that i hate heat of any kind. i don't care if it's dry heat or humid heat; once the temperature starts inching past 78 degrees, i start raging because i sweat non-stop, feel bloated, and struggle with lethargy. i mean, my insomnia is bad enough in whatever weather, and the heat has only made my insomnia worse.
it feels like a piddling thing to rant about, especially given the hundreds of thousands displaced in houston, in south asia, in LA county, and it feels like poor form, maybe because it is. let’s move on.
on wednesday, i finished kamila shamsie's home fire (riverhead, 2017), and i loved it except for the last paragraph, which left me confused and kind of muddled because i had to read it multiple times to try to understand what she was getting at. (i'm still not sure i "got it.") it's a paragraph that reads beautifully, written in lovely prose, but the ambiguity was too ambiguous for me, too prosey-for-prose's-sake, and it inserted a slight bitter note to a book that should have left me feeling unequivocally wowed at what shamsie has accomplished in these pages.
because home fire is a stunning book, one that achieves its ambitions. it's a punch in the gut, one that makes you look hard at yourself, at your internalized prejudices, and it makes you ask yourself what you think about muslims and islam and why you do and what those prejudices say about you and how they shape the world and affect real people with real lives and real families and real hopes and dreams and fears and loves.
home fire is not a book that lets you read it comfortably.
i finally started watching orange is the new black the other week, and i don't know that i'll keep watching all the seasons, but i'll keep going until i lose interest, which might be sooner than later. i’m currently halfway through season 3 because i skipped half of season 2 because i was bummed about the lack of alex and annoyed with the drama between red and vee — i couldn’t stand how power-hungry and emotionally manipulative vee was, especially over suzanne, or how she tried to drive a wedge between poussey and taystee. (i love poussey, poussey and her broken hearts.)
there are many things i love about orange is the new black, but, mostly, i love that it's a show about women, women who don't all look the same, think the same, want the same. i love the ways it shows how insidious racism and classism and misogyny are, how they don't always exhibit in obvious, gross acts or words but are often masked in more genteel, nice ways, like in a CO (healy) who appears to be a thoughtful, old white man who's looking out for his inmates. in particular, he wants to protect piper (the main character who's an educated blonde white woman with a male fiancé, for the unfamiliar) and make sure she serves her time without getting into trouble — except, no, his nice intentions are actually entirely rooted in racist, homophobic, chauvinistic crap.
and i think this is the scarier, more dangerous manifestation of any -ism, this kind of -ism that thinks that it's all right, it's not "like that," it's an exception to discrimination, hate, and bigotry. i'd almost rather have the assholes who march around in their polos and khakis, carrying tiki torches in public spaces (then crying about how their faces are being plastered all over the media), than have the assholes who think they're better than that — they're not racist; they're not sexist; no, they would never take to the streets with tiki torches or treat a black person as lesser or rape a woman. they would never.
except prejudice isn't always about brutality and overt violence. prejudice isn't always about assault. prejudice isn't always obvious.
prejudice is in the way you look down your nose at people and don’t want to grant them legal protection or equal rights or second chances because they're trans, they're addicts, they're sex workers, they're homeless, they're simply different from you. prejudice is in the way you think it's your right or calling to protect a woman because she's a woman and she's weaker, more emotional, in need of guarding because she's a woman. prejudice is in the way you think you're better than others like you because you're so nice to people of color, you tip service people well, you would never use the n word or call an asian person oriental or whatever — you’re PC; you know all the terminology; you ask people what pronouns they prefer.
prejudice is in the way you think you couldn't be racist or sexist or homophobic because you're a person of color or a woman or queer.
prejudice is in the small ways your world order betrays itself in your self-elevation, and the world is a more dangerous place for it.
i think a lot about media and art and content created by women and how they’re held to impossible standards. it makes me think about the 2016 ghostbusters with its kickass female cast, how it’s so much easier to criticize films by women, about women, [arguably] for women because we want them to be representative of so much more than they should be — a film like ghostbusters should be fun, easy entertainment, and, for all its weaknesses, i’d say it delivered on that front, and yet, it’s not good enough — it must be deeper, must contain no flaws, or it’s failed in its implied purpose, and, thus, work by women is not good enough and not worth investing in, and that’s all the fault of this one piece of work.
and i think a lot about art created by people of color, how there’s sometimes (often?) a sense that POC art should contain a deeper message, some kind of morality or stronger awareness of being in the world, like it should be educational somehow, exposing of the deeper humanity of POC that is apparently so difficult for non-POC to conceptualize on their own.
for our inaugural read, my online book club read bandi’s the accusation (grove, 2017), the first collection of stories by a north korean writer still living in north korea, and we talked about how we might read these kinds of “important” books differently from other books. do we give a writer like bandi more room to allow for narrative or style weaknesses because his work itself is important, giving us these glimpses into north korea, humanizing north koreans who are so easily demonized and pilloried by those outside?
similarly, am i relieved that books like moshin hamid’s exit west (riverhead, 2017) and shamsie’s home fire are beautifully written, so i can recommend them to people without having to add qualifiers of the writing isn’t as good, but it’s such an important book, you should read it?
am i glad that writers like jenny zhang and esmé weijun wang and celeste ng and rachel khong patty yumi cottrell are incredible, strong, unique writers because they’re asian-american and i want more of us asian-american writers out there?
if i’m subconsciously putting these burdens on my fellow women, my fellow POC, where does that leave me?
am i complicit in the system i criticize?
this weekend, i plan to read nicole krauss' forthcoming fourth novel, forest dark (harpers, forthcoming 2017), which harpers very kindly sent me — or, at least, i was planning to read it, but i got distracted by orange is the new black and the heat and planning content for national suicidal prevention week.
i’m so excited for forest dark; krauss is one of my favorite living writers; and her debut, man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002) is one of my top ten favorite novels, one i turn to when i'm feeling uninspired and discouraged because krauss' prose is exquisite and haunting. i love the way she writes about memory, about history, about the things that follow us, and hers is writing i aspire to, which isn't something i say about other people's writing in general. (i'm not interested in being another writer; i want to be my own; but, when i read krauss, i think, god, i hope i can capture this kind of ghostly beauty and thoughtfulness in my own way.)
i get a little anxious when it comes to new books by writers i love. will i be disappointed? are my standards too high? will this author be like ian mcewan, whom i loved once, until he started turning out book after book of beautifully written ennui?
and that’s heightened when the author has been away for so long — or, sometimes, when the author hasn’t been away for as long as usual (aka franzen’s purity [FSG, 2015], which was published only five years after freedom [FSG, 2010]) — and, yeah, this is all kind of dumb, but i want the people i love to do well, to thrive, and, so, there it is, this branch of my anxiety, like i don’t have enough to be anxious about in my own life.
maybe it’s a way of getting out of my own problems, though. who knows?
i’m also reading chiara barzini’s things that happened before the earthquake (doubleday, 2017), and i’m reading it as my commute read, something light and easy for those in-between hours when i’m zombie-ing it between home and work. i can’t say i’m loving it; barzini’s prose style is one i decidedly don’t enjoy, all clipped sentences and abrupt phrasing; and it’s something i don’t linger on, simply pass over as quickly as i can speed read.
in another instance, i might just stop reading things that happened, but the thing is, barzini’s novel hits familiar spots for me because it’s set in the san fernando valley in the 90s, and i grew up in the san fernando valley in the 90s. the streets she describes, the people, the attitude, the heat, the general feel, from the social post-LA riots tension lingering in the city to the narrator’s unhappiness being here — it’s all familiar, and i’m finding that, sometimes, that sense of familiar is nice.
as someone who grew up in the los angeles area, though, LA is not somewhere i write about because it’s not a place or a personal history i want to explore. it’s a place in time i’ve wanted so long to fold over and forget, to move on from and recreate myself, and, when i read about it, it’s very much like seeing a place in a dream, somewhere familiar but not, knowable but not.
it’s a familiarity that i enjoy exploring through the ways other people write about and capture LA.
it’s oddly a way for me to remember this place i came from, while also maintaining much-needed mental and emotional distance.
going back to orange is the new black, i can’t stand piper, and i don’t seem to be alone in this. i spend a fair amount of time thinking, oh, you white woman, and her naïveté and privilege are one thing, maybe, to some extent, something she can’t help, but it’s her sanctimonious but i’m a nice person! crap i can’t stand.
(alex deserves better.)
at the same time, though, sometimes, the reason people or situations or things make us uncomfortable is that there’s familiarity there, a realization of, shit, i’m kind of like that. i don’t like that about myself, too. i think like that. it’s not pleasant to come face-to-face with that ugliness, with the ways we try to guard ourselves from learning that, no, we’re not actually very nice, we’re all kinds of messed up and manipulative and self-protecting. we’re all kinds of selfish.
and piper is kind of the character who’s meant to play that part, just like she’s meant to play the part of the naive, ignorant, sheltered girl who’s suddenly thrust amongst people she likely never interacted with in the “real” world, who’s forced to reckon with her actions in the past and their effect on the present.
and yet … i’m so annoyed with piper that i’m close to dropping the show. or maybe it’s more accurate to say that i’m bored with the lack of alex, and i’m tired of piper being her deluded, sanctimonious self, and i’m tired of her running to alex when she needs her and leaving alex when she no longer does.
i just really like alex.
because, hey, i’m the kind of TV-watcher who shamelessly and unapologetically watches something for one person/character. what can i say? i have a weird loyal streak, and season 3 of orange is the new black is boring me because alex is just there to be piper’s girlfriend, and i want more of alex as her own human with her own interesting, complicated history and self and not as a cipher for a boring, annoying white girl who doesn’t seem to grow. end rant. and end post. i feel i’ve gone on for long enough.
september is national suicide prevention awareness month, and national suicide prevention week is september 10-16. are you ready? let’s talk.