On the Marrow of Life, Lovely

(I don’t care that “lovely” isn’t technically an adverb. But if you were to use it as an adverb, then you would be able to attempt to encapsulate everything I’m trying to put in this post. Think of it that way. I do what I want; deal with it.)

I think I was a sophomore in high school when we read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” At this point, I had not yet developed my hardened hatred for Hemingway  and was far more open to the literature from that time than I am now. I loved and hated the book.

At my core, I believe firmly in hopeless, foolish love. But at the same time, I recognize a situation that has no hope of ending well.  You can’t quite manage to tear your eyes away, watching the disaster unfold in front of you. It’s the compelling crash, but even as I see everything unravel, I hold out hope that there’s some way to fix it, for the characters to run off into the sunset together, happy and unburdened.

I also happen to adore Baz Luhrmann, mostly for “Romeo + Juliet”, but also “Moulin Rouge” and “Australia” — tear-jerkers, the lot of them. I’ve been meaning to go see “The Great Gatsby” but haven’t managed to find the time.

Evan came to visit me at Dairy Queen to try my roasted beets – his face was priceless, and he declared that he didn’t hate them, but I’m not sure if that was just an attempt to preemptively soothe my eager, anxious ego.

Spurred on by the wildling living inside me, I declared that I wanted night tennis (which is exactly what it sounds like); he did not. He suggested the movie; I readily agreed and plans were formed. He stayed for an hour and helped us close. Poor guy – his day off and he finds himself at work, sweeping and counting. I was thrilled, because we got out in time to make it to the last showing (11:15 PM; we’re madmen).

The theater was nearly vacant. I curled up and settled in for a long movie. It was breathtaking. I’m actually surprised that Luhrmann didn’t go for a more disconnected, surreal vibe. It obviously was, but I almost wanted more. It was elegant. I’m a sucker for Jay-Z and I loved the soundtrack. There were moments of brilliantly placed black humor.

The critics are right – we do lose some of the story through the visuals, but I think in the end, the story isn’t about the details. It’s about more than that. It transcends its own plot, as poignant and pertinent today as it was then. It speaks to experiences and heartbreak and the evils of obsession. You cannot repossess your past. There is no way to go back, no matter how hard one tries. There is only the bittersweet, hopeful march forward.

Speaking of the bittersweet, hopeful march forward, I’ve been on a journey of my own lately. It’s not bittersweet at all, it’s beautiful. The slow kindling of something into something more has created in me a warm radiance that seems so natural, I feel as though it’s always been there. It’s brimming with possibilities and the prospect of adventure.

For this, and so many other things, I am eternally grateful. I’ve been wondering Why now?, for it emerged suddenly but sweepingly, but I don’t want to wonder. I want to let this cloud of happiness swallow me whole, and I believe that’s exactly what I’m going to do. (He hates baseball and golf, too! Ugh, this is the best thing!)

We had our first book club meeting last night. The discussion was interesting, at times incomprehensible  and all around inconclusive, as I imagine every discussion about gendered communication to be. It was lovely. We sat on the porch outside, gathered around a table full of snacks, until the air grew too cool and we retired inside.

Then there was Game of Thrones. And of course, I fell asleep, warm and safe, pretending that I wouldn’t be unhappily woken by the rude intrusion of the daylight and the 4 alarms I set each night. But alas, employment called and I answered, reluctantly leaving my nest. (I won’t lie, I’m an insanely good nester. My bed consists of pillows and blankets and small bits of heaven.)

And now, I’m off to Chicago for a wedding! I always cry at weddings. I always cry at everything. The other day at Dairy Queen, a grandmother with tears in her eyes thanked me for letting them have their graduation party there, and told me how wonderful it was. And then I teared up. Because it was so sweet. She was so happy. It was just a cake. It was beautiful.

I haven’t been back to Chicago since last Memorial Day. I’m going to eat Dunkin Donuts, and touch the Bean like a tourist, and eat Portillo’s, and go to Laschet’s (or Laschet’s’z, as I call it), and stand by the lake. It’s going to be lovely. I have beautiful dresses to wear, too, so that never hurts.

Enjoy your weekend.

On Books and Chocolate-Covered Pretzels, Hopefully

Bookstores are dangerous places for me. I go in for one book, just like I did yesterday, and I’ll come out with five. When I have the time, I devour books. As a child, I had to start borrowing books from the library based on their thickness, simply because I read so fast and so much that I’d be finished with the books and desperate for more long before our next library trip. (And then of course, I’d lose them and the fines would begin to rack up. It’s much easier to locate a 750-page book than it is to find a tiny paperback.)

I found myself standing in Barnes and Noble yesterday, reminding myself why I don’t go in more often. (I had a gift card from when I graduated from college in 2010 that I found and hadn’t used. “Treat yo’self!” said my subconscious, so off I went.) I just want to buy all of the books.

My friend Evan is starting a book club. I’m thrilled. We voted on our first book, so I wanted to run to the bookstore to buy it. (I know, I know, I could have gotten it at the library. But I blame college for giving me the distinct pleasure of writing in books. There’s something so satisfying in marking quotes, starring pages, underlining, making notes in the margins. I don’t know what it is about it, but that makes it the best thing. I’m also far too impatient to order it on Amazon and then have to wait for it to come in the mail.) I got the last copy. He was not pleased when I informed him of that.

Our first meeting is at my house in a few weeks. We’ve got that amazing free space in the basement, or if the weather’s nice, the backyard. I’m imagining hors d’oeuvre, wine, and a lively discussion. I can’t wait. I’ve been wanting to use the remaining intellectual capacity that’s left over after hours of legal stuff, or computer screens and spreadsheets, or fake-smiley customer service for good and I feel like this endeavor is the perfect commingling of friendship and worthwhile debate. Besides, I’m starting to love having an excuse to make bacon-wrapped jalapenos.

I also got the first two books in the Song of Ice and Fire series: A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. I’m going on a business trip this weekend through the first half of next week, and I imagine I’ll have tons of time to read. I’m secretly thrilled to have nothing to do after the conference day is over. It’s going to be amazing.

I also got a romance novel (already halfway through it; can’t help it), and a book about resilience in the human spirit. Lately, I’ve been struggling and feeling weak is one of the things I hate the most. I know that time heals all wounds, but I also know that there’s enough uncertainty in my life right now to keep me edgy and upset as I wait to find what the future holds. Perhaps some baby steps toward recovering my inner strength will help put me on the right track, or at least help me feel better about the things that are out of my control.

***

Last night I worked with Evan, who is by far my favorite co-worker and one of my best friends. (I didn’t start to think about this until a few weeks ago, when we were talking about how hard it is to find fun, intelligent people. Then I was like, holy shit, there’s one right next to me.) I was trying to explain to him how much I hoped my Wednesday people would come in.

My Wednesday people are a mother and her teenage son. They’re so sweet. Do you ever just really like people even though you don’t really know them? I can’t put my finger on it, but I love this family. They come in every Wednesday night (hence my use of descriptive naming) and we always have the best conversations. They’re my favorite.

Last night they pulled up and came in carrying a cup wrapped in duct tape. My face lit up. I knew immediately what it was.

About a month ago, we were having a conversation about my serious addiction to the chocolate-covered pretzels we have for a limited time at work and I told them that we’d been cautioned not to eat all of them. (This was as I was shoveling chocolate-covered pretzels into my mouth.) I told them that I wanted to get my hands on a box of them. (They’re terrible in ice cream. Absolutely horrific. But by themselves, they’re delicious. If only they were dark chocolate. If only…..Trader Joe’s needs to hurry up and get to Colorado. I’ve got pretzels to purchase!)

“Where have you been?” they asked me. I apologized; I’ve been working Tuesdays and Thursdays instead.

The mom laughed, “I couldn’t get a whole box, but I brought you these. We thought we’d cover the cup in duct tape so they didn’t think you were stealing.” They have a Dairy Queen connection, and she asked her friend if she could have some pretzels for me. How thoughtful and sweet of them. I am overwhelmed with how happy that made me.

This is what I love about the world. These little moments. I’m not trying to get all sappy here, but if you think about how much impact a little moment can have, you start to realize how important “good” is. I was updating Evan on my life situation, and was telling him about Tobias telling me that I radiate light, and Evan agreed. “That’s such a great way to say it. You give off positive energy.” Last night, as I was handed a duct-taped covered, chocolate-pretzel filled cup, I started to believe it a little bit. No one would waste precious pretzels on someone they hated. (Unless, of course, they hated pretzels. But that’s beside the point.)

On Rape and Rising, Hopefully

[There are potential triggers in this post re: rape. Please do not proceed if this may make you uncomfortable.]

“Rape” is a four-letter word.

I’ve written before about my journey to the realization about the devastation of rape (I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?). Now that I’m fully aware of not only the physical effects but the emotional and psychological devastation caused by rape, I’m burning with rage about it.

My friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing the gray areas surrounding the concept of sexual assault and rape. It’s a harrowing topic, because the more it’s discussed, the more it doesn’t make sense anymore. There’s the “maybe” and the “I don’t know” and the “intent,” but at the end of the day, regardless of where any act stands on the spectrum, it’s a harmful, traumatic experience, period.

It was one of my friends, during a recent discussion about rape amazed me with his passion, who reminded me why it’s not a fruitless endeavor to fight for change. His anger, his emphasis, the sincerity in his voice – it brought me out of the removed apathy that so many of us don when we’re hesitant. It brought me into the present; it ignited a part of my soul.

They say that rape is about power, and I guess that to a certain extent it is. But it’s more than that, too. It’s about having your power taken from you. Rape, gray area rape or legitimate rape or date rape or sexual assault or whatever else you can think to call it, takes away your power. It makes you feel weak inside. It makes you skittish and scared; it makes you hurt all over; it makes you burn with shame, even though you know that it’s not your fault.

It’s under-reported. I can empathize with those women (or men) who for any number of reasons, cannot report it, and suffer in silence. I think of the Kobe Bryant trial. I don’t care whether or not it was rape – look at what happened to the victim. She was shamed, called horrible names, doubted, had her life spread before the eyes of the world and then slowly dismantled to be examined. So often, it comes down to “he said, she said” and nothing can be proven.

(I should note here that one of my biggest pet peeves is when people assume that women are “crying rape” for attention. I don’t think anyone should ever misreport anything, and it’s disgraceful to do it – but at the same time, every time someone reports something, people are so quick to make critical judgments and I think that says a ridiculous amount of negative things about humanity.)

The statistic that 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped within her lifetime is terrifying. One billion women. One billion. (I’m imaging Mike Meyers as Dr. Evil saying “one million dollars” right now….)

Think about that number. Really think about that. What does that say? What does that say about men? What does that say about our tolerance for violence? What does that say about our inclination to make women bear the brunt of the responsibility for actions committed against them?

The world is not a safe place. It never has been. But that’s not an excuse for us to stop working toward something better. I hate the idea that women are weak. I hate it. But I understand it.

During college, I took a Transgender English class – liberal arts, I know – and we read a story about a college professor who transitioned from male to female. I hated the book at the time – she wrote about embracing femininity in a way I found to be so shallow, materialistic, and stereotypical. She wrote about the vulnerability that she felt when she felt the wind between her thighs when she was wearing a skirt.

I disregarded the notion entirely. But I have gained new insight. I do understand the vulnerability. I am glad that I never realized my own vulnerability while I was living in Chicago or staying in Cape Town. I’m glad that I was bull-headed and street-smart enough to be safe.

No amount of “right decisions” can protect you. No amount of preparedness can keep you from harm. There is no such thing as safety. It’s all merely an illusion. That’s what we’ve come to as a society. Our gated communities and fancy security guards are nothing. Trust is irrelevant, an outdated idea shirked in favor of deceit and false self-truths.

Enough is enough. Listen to Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues!) say some powerful stuff about the movement called “One Billion Rising.” People are breaking their silence. They’re letting go of the discomfort that they feel when discussing something as taboo as rape and sexually motivated violence. They’re realizing that something needs to change. People need to be held accountable for their actions. People need to fundamentally respect other people.

Rape is a preventable crime. It’s not preventable in the ways that have been suggested in the past, such as “dress more conservatively.” I forget who originally made the counter-point to this, but it’s so incredibly valid: what does that say about men? That they’re little more than wild beasts who will be unable to control themselves at the sight of flesh? That argument in itself is disgraceful to men and to women.

What I wear or do not wear cannot be construed as an invitation for rape or violence. What I do or say or act like cannot be construed as an invitation for rape of violence. There is no valid excuse. None at all.

We need to teach our young men that “no means no.” We need to teach them that power can be gained through other avenues that are more rewarding than acts of violence aimed at belittling and degrading other people. We need to emphasize respect – actions have consequences. Even if you can’t see the harm that’s been done, it’s there. We need to dispel the myth that sex is something to be taken, something to be claimed.

We need to remind all women that their voices and experiences matter. We as a global society need to value our women, rather than marginalizing them and quieting their voices. We need to remind women to be strong – we need to assure them that we’ll support them, heal them, and lift them up.

No one can be an island. We’re not in this fight alone. Globalization necessitates cooperation and conviction. We must work together to stop this perpetuation of violence, of hatred, of fear. Sexual violence against women (and men, too) has long been used as the ultimate bargaining tool, a source of shame and ultimate destruction. We must stop it. We must make it so that our people are free from the terror of vulnerability.

The world is willing to work for change – it’s time for us to realize that the capacity for human compassion and love is ever-present. This is a beautiful thing. Love is the essence of humanity – it keeps us strong and humble. Love is something we need to work on teaching our children. With a strong foundation, they will be less likely to take from others what they cannot find in themselves.

On Education, Gratefully

My word for 2012 has been “gratitude.” I have tried to be more mindful of the wonderful blessings in my life and express gratitude in all areas of my life. First things first: I have improved dramatically at writing and remembering to send Thank-You notes. I think that may be the only real deliverable; the rest of my gratitude practice has been solely in my own mind and heart.

As I’ve been crawling, inching, barely progressing on the series Breaking Bad, I’ve been reflecting on my own life, my own decision-making rationale, my gifts and support systems. Of course, the onslaught of gratitude and related emotions has been a refreshing reminder of how beautifully hopeful and heartbreaking life can be.

But the greatest gift I’ve ever been given was my education. From the age of three, I was enrolled in private, Catholic schools. While I realize that Catholic schools are a hot-mess of crazy (this is true), I also realize how valuable the emphasis on education is. I remember begging my parents – pleading my case every single year – to let me go to public schools. They didn’t.

I went to a Christian Brothers high school, but my real luck came from the Jesuit university I attended. The Jesuits are noted for their commitment to the education of the whole person. If there’s one thing I took away from my college experience, it was “solidarity.” While Loyola may not be known for their commitment to the betterment of Rogers Park (I think it’s a no-win situation, as far as land ownership goes, but on the plus side, the Loyola stop is in pretty good condition. and there used to be a Dunkin Donuts!), they’ve always emphasized service-learning and commitment to communities of all kinds, more than just their own student body.

My professors there were not all devout Christians, but they were all devout scholars and educators (give or take a few). One of my favorite professors was a women’s studies professor who taught some of my feminist theory classes. She was a devout Catholic, but freely admitted that as a woman, she had problems with some of the catechism. I so adored her commitment to her faith but her willingness to question it and call attention to its hypocrisies and flaws. It allowed me to see the Catholic faith in a new light, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

While attending Loyola, I lived in one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city of Chicago, which is already a wonderful blend of everywhere. But that’s not the point, even though I will carry pieces of Rogers Park in my heart forever. The point is that my educational experiences have left me a more rounded, grounded, rational human being. I’ve traveled to Europe for a forensic trip because I was lucky enough to have the most badass forensic teacher (we had one of the only forensic science classes in the country at the time) ever. Loyola prepared me to open my heart and mind to the conditions in the townships in South Africa.

All of this education has left me curious, well-informed (mostly), and most importantly, someone who cares about the well-being of all human beings (solidarity, solidarity, solidarity, and so on).

Regardless of your religious views (trust me, I have plenty of opinions and don’t ever get me started about the current Pope), this article should give you hope for the future and hope that educations such as mine will continue to cultivate a love of learning in young minds everywhere:

By Carl Bunderson

Denver, Colo., Oct 16, 2012 / 03:03 am (CNA).- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School based in Denver, Colo., has nearly doubled its enrollment in just one year by introducing a classical curriculum.

“This is something people want, and they’ve wanted it for a long time, and now it’s available,” principal Rosemary Anderson told CNA Oct. 10.

Our Lady of Lourdes is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school. The parish’s pastor, Monsignor Peter Quang Nguyen, had helped turn around a number of schools in the Archdiocese of Denver which had been in danger of closing. He was assigned to Lourdes five years ago.

When Msgr. Quang hired Anderson to be principal in 2010, the school was in “quite a bit of debt” and had only 104 students enrolled. That figure is 180 today.

The school’s capacity is 235 and Anderson believes that by the next school year, “we’ll have to start wait-listing kids.”

“The biggest problem when I came on was that everyone thought the school was going under. The attitude has changed…Now people know this place will be there, and their kids are getting a phenomenal education, and parents don’t have to worry that it will close in a few years.”

“I’m very grateful for Monsignor Quang’s support. None of this would have happened if he wasn’t completely on board,” she added. “We were right in this together.”

Anderson noted that classical education is meant to help students learn how to think, rather than merely teaching them “subjects.” The program at Lourdes school was inspired by 20th century author Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and the work of Laura Berquist, who was involved in the founding of Thomas Aquinas College – a Catholic university in southern Calif. which uses the classical model.

“She’s a huge influence,” Anderson said, “she founded a homeschooling curriculum called ‘Mother of Divine Grace’ and is brilliant in the ways of classical education.”

The foundation of classical education is a set of three methods of learning subjects, called the trivium, which is made up of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Lourdes school will focus on the grammar and logic phases, and will introduce the eighth graders to rhetoric.

The trivium “happens pretty naturally” using the classical curriculum, and ideas of grammar and logic and integrated into the subjects taught to students: “it flows naturally from the way teachers are teaching,” Anderson expressed.

This year saw the hiring of five new teachers, in a faculty of 15 total. And out of those five, four have either had a classical education or taught in a classical school,  Anderson reported. “I brought in people who know what the vision is…they’re confident in how to teach” classically.

Anderson noted that the school drew in numerous students who had previously been schooled at home. Several homeschooling parents enrolled their children as this type of education wasn’t available before. “Now they know there’s something that will sync up with what they’ve taught” their children.

Several non-Catholic families have also come to Lourdes just for the classical education, Anderson said. She expects that group to grow as well, “because it’s a great education.”

Parents at the school are very invested in the classical model, which she “welcomes completely.” She pointed to the Catholic teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children, and that “we’re just here to help them.”

Anderson was encouraged to differentiate her school, and with the “support and knowledge”of Bishop James D. Conley – former apostolic administrator of the archdiocese – chose to follow this approach to education as a way of imparting to students the art of learning.

“The classical approach is Catholic, through and through,” said Anderson. While “other schools are doing great things,” “no other Catholic schools in the diocese are doing this yet.”

The school’s re-organization will be a three-year process. The first year, which is occurring presently, involves a re-vamp of the English department and the introduction of Latin classes.

Latin was introduced in place of Spanish because of its importance as the basis of all Romance languages. Students “logically process things better when they know Latin,” said Anderson. She pointed to high school freshmen who “test into honors French, without having had any French before, just by knowing the root language.”

Latin is important for the grammar stage of the trivium because its nouns decline, or change their ending according to function they are performing in a sentence. This helps students to better understand how languages work, and it is coupled with the memorization of poetry.

The second year of the school’s rehabilitation will consist of a renewal of science and social studies.

“We’re not necessarily changing the material we’re teaching, but how it’s given to the kids, which is a step away from dependency on textbooks,” said Anderson.

Students will be reading more primary sources for history, and in English classes, reading historical novels to tie-in with their history classes.

“All the classes are very intertwined. What they’re reading in English should correspond to what they’re learning in history, and in history should be able to carry over to the virtues they’re learning about in religion, so it’s all very integrated.”

Morgan McGinn is in her second year at the school, and teaches second grade. She discussed how the move to classical education has changed her teaching style.

“I have to read and discover knowledge on my own before I can share it with my kids…It’s definitely changed my teaching; I can’t just look at a book anymore and read the lesson, and be prepared for the next day.”

“I’ve had to almost flip everything I know about education upside-down to teach classically,” she said.

Her students are now “required to think more,” rather than having “the information they need to know fed to them.”

The holistic approach of classical education, meant to build up the whole person, translates to an emphasis on the fine arts. “We already had a great performing arts and speech department here…so that was already very integrated,” said Anderson.

The school’s music and performing arts teacher, Patricia Seeber, is a veteran of the school, having taught there for 13 years.

“The feel where we’re at spiritually with the kids, that we’re making that the most important part of the day, has shifted for the better,” she said.

“It just feels like they’re really responding to it in a great way.”

In keeping with the introduction of Latin into the curriculum, Seeber has added Latin hymns among the songs prayed at the school’s bi-weekly Masses.

“We raised the bar I think a step or two higher than a lot of schools do, and the kids really rise to the occasion.”

Lourdes’ classical education is meant to help the students realize their full potential “spiritually, intellectually and socially,” and help draw them to God through the true, the good, and the beautiful.

The parish’s maintenance director, Bryan Heier, reflected on Anderson’s leadership at the school, saying “with enrollment as high as it is so quickly, she’s doing something right.”

On Whom, Frustratingly

I’m terrible at the word “whom.” It sounds so sexy and dignified, but in real life, I panic and do what everyone else does and use “who” instead. I guess I could just start throwing whoms around to see what happens, and then laugh it off like I was trying to be an ironic hipster Millennial when I get called on it.

So this article from The Economist was well-timed. I love watching language evolve….but not always: somewhere on the internet, I read a homework forum where a student asked about interpreting a passage and said that he couldn’t understand it because it was written in Old English. The passage in question was written in the early 20th century.

On Gloria Anzaldúa

The first time I came across Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, I was 17 and a senior in high school. I hated it. Like, really hated it.

I came across Anzaldúa again during an exploration of feminist literature for a women’s studies class in college. I liked her a little better, but found her style of inserting snippets of Spanish into her writing annoyingly pretentious.

(This stems from an upper-level Shakespeare class I took the summer between my junior and senior years of college. On the first day, the professor asked us to go around the room and give an example of “fool.” When we got to the girl sitting next to me, she said smoothly, “I have a highbrow and a lowbrow example for you.” I rolled my eyes. I would later go on to hear the professor telling the girl that it was unnecessary [subtext: pretentious and douchey] to put so many French quotations in her papers.)

I have no idea why I initially disliked Anzaldúa so much. Her writing isn’t really pretentious.  It’s honest. It’s the product of her cultures, and her experiences, and her feelings. (After I post this, I’m going to find my box of file folders and dig through it to find notes on why I hated Borderlands so much the first time. I bet it’s a seriously silly reason.)

Her writings influenced the lesson that my AP English teacher taught about segmentation in the mind. I remember it as this: as the human brain learns new information, it attempts to categorize that information, and puts it into the boxes that it already has established. Woman. Dog. Boy. Adult. And so on. Each box exists as a separate container for information.

(I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’ve never been great with a straight line. I am also aware of the fact that I have the handwriting of an 8th grade girl. I was one once,  you know.)

The identity of a person doesn’t fit into just one box. An identity is a combination of boxes, all jumbled together to form a bigger picture of the whole.

Anzaldúa’s writing focuses on her lack of a concrete identity (belonging entirely to one box) since she is mixed-race and a lesbian, and therefore inhabits many boxes within many other boxes, hence the title Borderlands. Being both of those can get difficult, especially in a society that does not seem to value diversity.

As a college student, I was more receptive to her writing style, although I’m not sure that I was as gung-ho on her as I was on other authors (Judith Butler, I love you).

The idea of not fitting in entirely is not a foreign concept to most people. Granted, as a straight white chick, I will never quite understand the implications of being part of both racial and sexual orientation minorities, but the inability to truly identify as something concrete is something that I struggle with as I attempt to accept that I’ll never know who my birth father was and as I process the larger implications of being adopted as I enter adulthood (although the possibility of being part Vulcan or Russian or English or German or Elfish or Canadian is always exciting, I guess).

Anzaldúa definitely brought a different perspective to American feminist writing, which was (and still is) primarily driven by a very monochromatic subset of our society, and I think it’s really good to continue to acknowledge that even in feminism, minorities are under-represented and overlooked, and then work to change that.

Girldrive – which I highly recommend reading, highlights the importance of looking at feminism from outside academia – also brought my attention to the importance of identities for women, particularly as they navigate the various roles they identify with. (Are you white first? Or a woman first? Or a feminist first? Eventually, you have to accept that you’re a mass of all things all at once, even if people see and identify you as one thing or another immediately.)

Anzaldúa’s contribution was a giant one and as much as I hated Borderlands then (I have since come to respect both the author and her works, and sincerely appreciate being exposed to them earlier than most), I think it needs to remain an important part of our educational curriculum far into the future.

What sparked this? This article in Bitch.

BiblioBitch: 25th Anniversary of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

Books post by Devyn Manibo, Submitted by Devyn Manibo on July 11, 2012 – 1:14pm; tagged 25th anniversary,BiblioBitchbooksBorderlandsfeministGloria AnzaldúaLa Frontera.

If you read Bitch, you are likely at least somewhat familiar with Gloria Anzaldúa and her work with feminism, her beautiful writings, and her advocacy for women of color. She was a Chicana-Tejana-lesbian-feminist poet, theorist, and fiction writer, born September 26, 1942, in Raymondville, Texas. She passed away on May 15th, 2004, but still remains one of the most widely read, respected, and loved queer woman writers of color in history.

As someone who identifies as queer and mixed race, her work was bound to play a pivotal role in the way I construct and understand my identity, the way I live my life, and how I interact with others. I picked up a used copy ofBorderlands/La Frontera (the first edition) when I was 18 years old. Her semi-autobiographical collection of memoir and poetry was older than me, and I had no idea of the gravity of the impact it would have, but I began reading it, slowly–swallowing her words, and digesting them into my being. It was a lot to take in. Quickly, she helped me realize that the comfort I thought I found in labels was simply an assimilationist value I had adopted, not for myself, but for the comfort of others. I never knew how to answer the question, “so, what are you?” It was what I had been grappling with for my entire life; I was living between worlds–the borderlands. I am not either or, but rather, on the edges of all, in an unstable, and ever-changing terrain, “nepantla”–a Nahuatl word for the in-between spaces, where the boundaries are unclear, and we are constantly in transition. I can use ambiguity as resistance, and realize that I will not, and never will, fit so neatly into the boxes left out for me, for that would be the death of the borderlands, and the death of the identities I hold.

It is the chapter “Movimientos de rebeldia y las culturas que traicionan,” which roughly translates to “movements of rebellion and the cultures they betray,” that I carry closest to my heart. I have read those 10 pages more times than I can count. In this chapter, Anzaldúa notes “homophobia,” and not in the way you might think. She means the fear of going home, the fear of abandonment, by the mother, the culture, for being “unacceptable, faulty, damaged.” And to avoid rejection, we conform to values of “the culture,” while pushing what we are taught to understand as unacceptable into the periphery of our vision–the shadows. We’ve internalized our oppressions, thus, creating what Anzaldúa aptly named the Shadow-Beast. We fear that the beast will break free, and that our truths will show. Though, it is possible to come to terms with the Shadow-Beast, to see her as kind, and tender, as a being that wants to be released not in the name of destruction but to uncover the lies we’ve let inhabit our bodies, in order to come into our true selves, to resist imposed ideals, and to not be simply tolerated, but loved, and understood. It is a process, and most often, a struggle of pain, and melancholia. I am on a constant search for home, language, and kinship, and I was able to find a basis for all of this in Anzaldúa’s words.

gloria anzaldua with her arm outstretched, leaning on a wooden plank fence

Needless to say, this book has impacted my life in a way that I can barely scrape with a short blog post. I will revisit this text for years to come, it will live with me, it will understand me, and I will continue to discover what it means to live in such a transient space.

Aunt Lute, a nonprofit press focused on bringing the voices of women—particularly queer women and women of color—to publication, is celebrating its 30th year, as well as the 25th anniversary of Anzaldúa’sBorderlands/La Frontera. For the 25th anniversary of the book, Aunt Lute is looking to publish a fourth edition, but they cannot do so without your help. So, please, keep Gloria Anzaldúa’s voice alive, and donate via Kickstarter by July 28th.

Censorship: Why you shouldn’t advocate for it

I wasn’t allowed to watch the movies that my friends were watching and I hated it. All I wanted to was to see Titanic. I’ll never forget one of my classmates not letting me see a page in her Titanic movie companion book because she knew I wasn’t allowed to see the movie. 
My mom still cringes when I mention my first R-rated film (Ronin, when I was in the fourth grade). I don’t think I saw another R-rated film until high school. I still have only seen about five episodes of the Simpsons. I remember getting into angsty adolescent skirmishes with my dad because he wouldn’t let me buy CDs (when people still bought those) with the “Parental Advisory” stickers on them. My parents were careful, and surprisingly united in their cause to protect us from content they deemed inappropriate.
However careful my parents were to keep me from playing violent video games and from viewing violent images, they neglected to monitor my reading to a certain extent. I’d wait eagerly for mom to finish reading Reader’s Digest so I could have it, and she’d always tell me not to read certain articles. 
So those were the first ones I read. And yes, some of them were probably inappropriate for an 8-year old, but they also opened my eyes to the reality of the world around me. (I also watched both the morning and evening news, and Dateline, and stuff like that. I’m consequently terrified of fireworks, boiling water in glass bottomed containers, and swimming pool drains. But as a result, I’m also still alive.) 
Reader’s Digest wrote about female genital mutilation years before it was a mainstream topic. Now, they’re making a movie about Waris Dirie, the woman whose story appeared in that magazine at some point during my youth. I don’t consider that inappropriate at all. I’m grateful. It allowed me to understand something I might not have been able to – and it allowed me to learn without being embarrassed to ask awkward questions. 
As a child, I devoured books. It didn’t matter whether they were aimed at children, young adults, or adults, I read them all. My particular favorites were murder mysteries. I loved them. Agatha Christie, Lillian Jackson Braun, and so on. 
One year, someone bought me a big book of murder mysteries from Barnes and Noble. I’ll never forget it. That purple and black cover, the fact that it was at least a thousand pages. I thought it would last at least a week (I read so fast that I had to start choosing books based on thickness so they’d last). And I started reading. 
Not far into the book, I came upon a story so grotesque, I had to stop reading. (It concerned the rape and murder of a young girl.) My usual morbid curiosity was gone. I was haunted by what I’d read. I closed the book and hid it at the bottom of my drawer. I never again picked up that book. 
Perhaps my parents would never have given it to me if they’d known what it contained. But it was given to me with the best of intentions – they knew I loved murder mysteries. 
I was young, yes, but I was also old enough to make the decision not to continue reading for myself. 
The article that this post is based on calls into question the maturity of young adults to choose for themselves. What are we exposing our kids to? Today’s popular books don’t have any new themes in them…Shakespeare wrote about suicide, bloody battles, sex, etc. What is scandalous today becomes blasé tomorrow. 
I didn’t only learn about sex because of romance novels – one night, I couldn’t sleep and Mom gave me a book and told me not to read past a certain page. I started reading and fell in love with the characters. I read the entire book that night. It remains one of the most romantic stories I’ve ever read, not because it was inappropriate (it wasn’t), but because it was beautiful. I laughed and I cried. I slept well that night, knowing that somewhere, a fictional couple had found that love that all humans strive for. 
Books taught me about history, and tragedy, and famine, and war. I learned about the triumphs of humanity, the beauty of the natural world, the greed that comes with power. 
I don’t regret the exposure I had through novels. They prepared me to lead the life I lead today. They taught me about inner strength, gratitude, poise, passion, intelligence, the best way to silence an enemy, all sorts of poisons, drugs, politics, the justice system, common sense, fact, fiction, wild adventures, and magic. They were my greatest escape, my greatest indulgence, the source of much of my happiness. 
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for letting me read. 
The text below comes from a Wall Street Journal article published on June 4, 2011:

Darkness Too Visible

Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

Amy Freeman, a 46-year-old mother of three, stood recently in the young-adult section of her local Barnes & Noble, in Bethesda, Md., feeling thwarted and disheartened.
She had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, “nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff.” She left the store empty-handed.

How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.

Pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago, that were still only sparingly outlined a generation ago, are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail. Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it.
If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is. There are of course exceptions, but a careless young reader—or one who seeks out depravity—will find himself surrounded by images not of joy or beauty but of damage, brutality and losses of the most horrendous kinds.
Now, whether you care if adolescents spend their time immersed in ugliness probably depends on your philosophical outlook. Reading about homicide doesn’t turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won’t make a kid break the honor code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child’s happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart. Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.
[yalit]Raul Allen
If you think it matters what is inside a young person’s mind, surely it is of consequence what he reads. This is an old dialectic—purity vs. despoliation, virtue vs. smut—but for families with teenagers, it is also everlastingly new. Adolescence is brief; it comes to each of us only once, so whether the debate has raged for eons doesn’t, on a personal level, really signify.
As it happens, 40 years ago, no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing. There was simply literature, some of it accessible to young readers and some not. As elsewhere in American life, the 1960s changed everything. In 1967, S.E. Hinton published “The Outsiders,” a raw and striking novel that dealt directly with class tensions, family dysfunction and violent, disaffected youth. It launched an industry.
Mirroring the tumultuous times, dark topics began surging on to children’s bookshelves. A purported diary published anonymously in 1971, “Go Ask Alice,” recounts a girl’s spiral into drug addiction, rape, prostitution and a fatal overdose. A generation watched Linda Blair playing the lead in the 1975 made-for-TV movie “Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic” and went straight for Robin S. Wagner’s original book. The writer Robert Cormier is generally credited with having introduced utter hopelessness to teen narratives. His 1977 novel, “I Am the Cheese,” relates the delirium of a traumatized youth who witnessed his parents’ murder, and it does not (to say the least) have a happy ending.
Grim though these novels are, they seem positively tame in comparison with what’s on shelves now. In Andrew Smith’s 2010 novel, “The Marbury Lens,” for example, young Jack is drugged, abducted and nearly raped by a male captor. After escaping, he encounters a curious pair of glasses that transport him into an alternate world of almost unimaginable gore and cruelty. Moments after arriving he finds himself facing a wall of horrors, “covered with impaled heads and other dripping, black-rot body parts: hands, hearts, feet, ears, penises. Where the f— was this?” No happy ending to this one, either.
In Jackie Morse Kessler’s gruesome but inventive 2011 take on a girl’s struggle with self-injury, “Rage,” teenage Missy’s secret cutting turns nightmarish after she is the victim of a sadistic sexual prank. “She had sliced her arms to ribbons, but the badness remained, staining her insides like cancer. She had gouged her belly until it was a mess of meat and blood, but she still couldn’t breathe.” Missy survives, but only after a stint as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Books We can Recommend for Young Adult Readers

BOOKS FOR YOUNG MEN:
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)
This grueling post-apocalyptic National Book Award winner earns its scenes of menace and the odd expletive by believably conjuring a future in which people survive by scavenging materials from the rusting hulks of oil tankers. In a pitiless semi-civilization, one single act of decency launches a young man on a terrifying journey.
Peace by Richard Bausch (2009)
For older teens, a taut World War II novel set in 1944 that evokes the conflicting moral struggles of war. When a detachment of American GIs tramping through the Italian countryside discovers an escaping German soldier and a young woman hiding in the back of a cart, the resulting bloodshed—is it murder or self-defense?—sets off profound reverberations in the men’s hearts.
Old School by Tobias Wolff (2004)
Set in a smart New England prep school in the 1960s, this story of a young man’s search for authentic identity captures the mixture of longing and ambition that causes so many adolescents to try, if only for a time, to shape themselves along other people’s lines. Here, the admired models are writers—Ernest Hemingway, Ayn Rand, Robert Frost—who visit the school and for whom the young protagonist contorts himself in painful and revealing ways.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
A science-fiction classic that offers surprisingly mordant commentary on contemporary American life. In a society where rampant political correctness has resulted in the outlawing of books, Guy Montag works as a “fireman” tasked with destroying intellectual contraband. His wife spends her days immersed in the virtual reality projected on screens around her. When Guy accidentally reads a line from a book, he finds himself strangely stirred—and impelled to an act of recklessness that will change his life forever. Teenagers whose families are maddeningly glued to screens may find Guy’s rebellion bracingly resonant.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
Told (with the occasional expletive) from the unreliable perspective of a high-functioning autistic teenager, this mystery recounts 15-year-old Christopher’s effort to solve the killing of a neighborhood dog. When the boy himself falls under suspicion in the animal’s death, his violent response propels him toward discoveries that will ultimately overturn his understanding of his own family.
True Grit by Charles Portis (1968)
The movie versions are fine, but they only approximate the drollery and tenderness of this tale of Wild West vengeance. Narrated in retrospect by a rawhide-tough woman named Mattie Ross, the novel recounts her girlhood quest to hunt down her father’s killer in lawless Indian Territory, with the aid of dissolute U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. The brilliance is all in the tone: Beneath Mattie’s blunt manner lies a fierce intelligence and wagon-loads of grit. Girls will love this one, too.
BOOKS FOR YOUNG WOMEN:
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (2008)
The events swirling around 15-year-old Evie in this sophisticated National Book Award winner seem to her, in the blinkered way of teenagers, mainly the backdrop to her own sexual awakening. In a story involving deceitful parents, stolen Jewish treasure, a handsome ex-GI, adultery and murder, all set in louche, off-season Palm Beach, it is only when Evie must decide whether to lie—and whom to save—that it is apparent that she is no longer a child.
Ophelia by Lisa Klein (2006)
An inventive retelling of the story of Hamlet from the perspective of beautiful, bewildered Ophelia. In Shakespeare’s play, we are meant to understand her as a love-struck medieval girl gone mad. Here she is an intelligent if impractical Elizabethan who, with the help of Queen Gertrude, secretly marries Prince Hamlet, fakes her own death and runs away with—well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett (2005)
This elegant novel introduces us to 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, future author of “Frankenstein,” shortly before she meets the dashing poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The events that ensue seem as jolting today as they were to the couple’s early 19th-century contemporaries: an adulterous escape from London to Europe, the births and deaths of two children, a sojourn in Italy with the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Lord Byron (which included a famous night of telling ghost stories), and Percy Shelley’s tragic death at sea.
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien (1973)
A post-apocalyptic novel for adolescents that is all the more frightening for its restraint. It has been a year since all-out nuclear war has left Ann Burden apparently the only girl in the radioactive remains of the United States; thanks to a quirk of geography, her family’s farm (but not her family) survived the cataclysm. When she sees a column of distant smoke, Ann realizes that she is not alone, and soon she is nursing back to health a man who turns out not to be the person to play Adam to her Eve.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
This vivid novel of early 20th-century Brooklyn is proof that mature material can be rendered with such subtle humanity that a younger teen can read it with as much enjoyment as a person many years older. I got my copy in a used bookstore when I was 11 and was so entranced by the story of book-loving Francie Nolan and her impoverished Irish-Catholic family—her beautiful mother, her handsome drunken father and various other misbehaving or censorious relatives—that I read it over and over throughout adolescence. Only years later did I grasp everything that happened between the adult characters. Isn’t that what being a young reader, or indeed a teenager, is all about?
The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.
Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures. Self-destructive adolescent behaviors are observably infectious and have periods of vogue. That is not to discount the real suffering that some young people endure; it is an argument for taking care.
The novel “Scars,” a dreadfully clunky 2010 exercise by Cheryl Rainfield that School Library Journal inexplicably called “one heck of a good book,” ran into difficulties earlier this year at the Boone County Library in Kentucky, but not because of its contents. A patron complained that the book’s depiction of cutting—the cover shows a horribly scarred forearm—might trigger a sufferer’s relapse. That the protagonist’s father has been raping her since she was a toddler and is trying to engineer her suicide was not the issue for the team of librarians re-evaluating the book.
“Books like ‘Scars,’ or with questionable material, those provide teachable moments for the family,” says Amanda Hopper, the library’s youth-services coordinator, adding: “We like to have the adult perspective, but we do try to target the teens because that’s who’s reading it.” The book stayed on the shelves.
Perhaps the quickest way to grasp how much more lurid teen books have become is to compare two authors: the original Judy Blume and a younger writer recently hailed by Publishers Weekly as “this generation’s Judy Blume.”
The real Judy Blume won millions of readers (and the disapprobation of many adults) with then-daring novels such as 1970’s “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” which deals with female puberty, 1971’s “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t,” which addresses puberty from a boy’s perspective, and 1975’s “Forever,” in which teenagers lose their virginity in scenes of earnest practicality. Objectionable the material may be for some parents, but it’s not grotesque.
By contrast, the latest novel by “this generation’s Judy Blume,” otherwise known as Lauren Myracle, takes place in a small Southern town in the aftermath of an assault on a gay teenager. The boy has been savagely beaten and left tied up with a gas pump nozzle shoved down his throat, and he may not live. The protagonist of “Shine,” a 16-year-old girl and once a close friend of the victim, is herself yet to recover from a sexual assault in eighth grade; assorted locals, meanwhile, reveal themselves to be in the grip of homophobia, booze and crystal meth. Determined in the face of police indifference to investigate the attack on her friend, the girl relives her own assault (thus taking readers through it, too) and acquaints us with the concept of “bag fags,” heterosexuals who engage in gay sex for drugs. The author makes free with language that can’t be reprinted in a newspaper.
In the book business, none of this is controversial, and, to be fair, Ms. Myracle’s work is not unusually profane. Foul language is widely regarded among librarians, reviewers and booksellers as perfectly OK, provided that it emerges organically from the characters and the setting rather than being tacked on for sensation. In Ms. Myracle’s case, with her depiction of redneck bigots with meth-addled sensibilities, the language is probably apt.

But whether it’s language that parents want their children reading is another question. Alas, literary culture is not sympathetic to adults who object either to the words or storylines in young-adult books. In a letter excerpted by the industry magazine, the Horn Book, several years ago, an editor bemoaned the need, in order to get the book into schools, to strip expletives from Chris Lynch’s 2005 novel, “Inexcusable,” which revolves around a thuggish jock and the rape he commits. “I don’t, as a rule, like to do this on young adult books,” the editor grumbled, “I don’t want to compromise on how kids really talk. I don’t want to acknowledge those f—ing gatekeepers.”

By f—ing gatekeepers (the letter-writing editor spelled it out), she meant those who think it’s appropriate to guide what young people read. In the book trade, this is known as “banning.” In the parenting trade, however, we call this “judgment” or “taste.” It is a dereliction of duty not to make distinctions in every other aspect of a young person’s life between more and less desirable options. Yet let a gatekeeper object to a book and the industry pulls up its petticoats and shrieks “censorship!”

It is of course understood to be an act of literary heroism to stand against any constraints, no matter the age of one’s readers; Ms. Myracle’s editor told Publishers Weekly that the author “has been on the front lines in the fight for freedom of expression.”

Every year the American Library Association delights in releasing a list of the most frequently challenged books. A number of young-adult books made the Top 10 in 2010, including Suzanne Collins’s hyper-violent, best-selling “Hunger Games” trilogy and Sherman Alexie’s prize-winning novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” “It almost makes me happy to hear books still have that kind of power,” Mr. Alexie was quoted saying; “There’s nothing in my book that even compares to what kids can find on the Internet.”

Oh, well, that’s all right then. Except that it isn’t. It is no comment on Mr. Alexie’s work to say that one depravity does not justify another. If young people are encountering ghastly things on the Internet, that’s a failure of the adults around them, not an excuse for more envelope-pushing.

Veteran children’s bookseller Jewell Stoddard traces part of the problem to aesthetic coarseness in some younger publishers, editors and writers who, she says, “are used to videogames and TV and really violent movies and they love that stuff. So they think that every 12-year-old is going to love that stuff and not be affected by it. And I don’t think that’s possible.”

In an effort to keep the most grueling material out of the hands of younger readers, Ms. Stoddard and her colleagues at Politics & Prose, an independent Washington, D.C., bookstore, created a special “PG-15” nook for older teens. With some unease, she admits that creating a separate section may inadvertently lure the attention of younger children keen to seem older than they are.

At the same time, she notes that many teenagers do not read young-adult books at all. Near the end of the school year, when she and a colleague entertained students from a nearby private school, only three of the visiting 18 juniors said that they read YA books.

So it may be that the book industry’s ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young. Still, everyone does not share the same objectives. The book business exists to sell books; parents exist to rear children, and oughtn’t be daunted by cries of censorship. No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children’s lives.