Saturday, June 6, 2015

a quote i leave you with

Comrades! I'm going fishing. For a couple months. See you when I get back!

Here's a quote I leave you with:

"No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination." - Edward Hopper


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

thoughts on privilege

Here are some wonderful links about privilege. I get into discussions on privilege fairly often, mostly with people who don't think white privilege actually exists, or that class privilege matters. I think these are some helpful resources on that matter:

To Concept in General:

Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person:

Friday, May 22, 2015


I recommend the South African movie, "Skin." It's a true story about a girl who was born to white (Afrikaan) parents, but her appearance was "colored" (which is a racial designation in South Africa). It's really worth seeing.

Friday, May 8, 2015

new recommendation: GO THERE NOW.

I just discovered this awesome website/magazine. It's called The Riveter Magazine: Riveting Storytelling by Women. It's longform journalism by women. This is awesome. Go there now.

my current companion. ella, the cat.

Ella the Cat's primary expression of affection is punching me with her little paws. She also likes to bite. It's awesome.

A resource for when you're feeling really down

This is a resource for when you're feeling really down, but can't figure out why. Obviously, there are many concrete reasons all of us feel low, and many of those reasons can't be solved with exercise or a glass of water. But, sometimes we're forgetting to do some basic things that could really make us feel better. So, I wanted to share this, and to thank my friend Buffy for posting it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

quote to go along with the previous post

We all tell lies, just to keep them from each other, and from ourselves. But sometimes, rarely, something can happen that leaves you no choice but to reveal it--to let the world see who you really are, a secret self. But mostly we tell lies and we hide our secrets from each other and from ourselves. And the easiest way to do this is not to even know that you are.

-from the TV series, "The Honorable Woman"

something a friend and i recently realized about racism

My friend Sally and I were sitting in the living room of my last house-sitting house a few weeks ago, talking about racism and white privilege. Sally and I are both white, and white privilege is something we both think about and care about a lot, and we were talking about experiences we've had that have helped us understand our own white privilege (and hence participation in racism) better.

Jonathan's comment today, about how white privilege is actually a lot of what's going on with the anti-vaccination crowd, reminded me of that conversation with Sally, and so I'd like to share with you something we talked about.

Almost every white person I know does not want to be racist. Some of my white friends think about race a lot, and some of them only think about it a little, but pretty much all of them would be horrified to be seriously labeled a racist. They/we genuinely believe racism is evil, and they would all be saddened and scandalized to learn, as I recently did, that there is a town in Arkansas called Negro Head Corner. They/we are revolted by racist comments on the internet. Etcetera.

We are, in other words, well-intentioned progressive white Americans.

One of the assumptions I think that so many of us white Americans have had--myself very much included--is that if we were to have a racist motivation for any action, that we'd instantly recognize that racism inside of us, and it would feel icky. We think that to be racist must be an inwardly bad feeling, like you feel when you feel jealous or disappointed or even ill. We think we'd recognize the icky feeling of racism in ourselves, and since we don't have any of those icky feelings, we assume that we aren't racist.

We assume that because we don't have hatred for black people, we must not be racist, Or because we'd invite a black family over for dinner, we must not be racist. Or because we chat with our Mexican co-worker, or smile at the Vietnamese immigrant who's our server at the Vietnamese restaurant, that we must not be racist.

This is a dangerous assumption. It's like assuming that you'll know if you've been infected with HIV the minute the infection enters your body. So, as long as you don't feel sick, you assume you don't have HIV, and so you continue to have unprotected sex. Racism is so much like that. It's a virus. It's a quiet, dormant-seeming virus that's coursing through most of us white Americans, and it doesn't make us feel sick so we assume we don't have it.

I wish that this reality was known by white people. Being racist does not necessarily make you feel bad. You can be racist and feel great! You can be racist and feel happy, feel a tremendous sense of well-being and at-one-ness. Being nice and feeling good have absolutely no bearing on whether you are racist or not. I wish this was better understood.

Of course it is known by some white people, and a woman like Sally has my respect for the way that she is trying so sincerely to confront her white privilege, think about it, engage it, and try to figure out what to do about it. But the thing is that the central feature of the privilege that Sally and I have is that we don't have to think about it. We can choose to think about it or choose not to think about it. Whereas all the people of color in this country don't have that choice. I could very comfortably live in America my whole life and never give race a second of my time. And if I do think about it, I feel a bit self-congratulatory, a bit proud of myself, for being the good kind of white person. (And I get that feedback, too, from people of color. That I'm the good kind of white person. Which of course makes me feel even prouder of myself. I wonder if this is how progressive men feel, when they get pats on the back from women.)

Everything I'm saying can be applied to class too. You can be classist and never realize it, and never feel icky at all. Poor people live on the other side of town, and don't have any bearing on your life. You smile at them when you pass them on the street. No icky feelings happen. The end.

Gender is maybe a little trickier, because while white people can go their whole lives not interacting with people of color, and rich people can go their whole lives only very marginally engaging with poor people, we all have to engage people of the opposite gender. So, I don't know. Can you be sexist and never feel icky? That's not a question that I can answer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

tamie's thoughts on vaccinations for children

A few weeks ago I wrote this letter to the editor here in Sitka, after going to a pro-vaccination talk given by a local pediatrician. I'd like to share it with all of you. It's not pro-vaccination and it's not anti-vaccination. It's about what I think is one thing that needs to happen in order for the pro and anti people to be able to really talk to each other.

Dear Editor:

Last night I attended by first “Doc Talk,” by pediatrician Dr. David Vastola, about childhood vaccinations. Few topics are as socially divisive as vaccinations! I appreciated Dr. Vastola’s thorough preparedness, and I learned a lot. He explained well what he (and the American Medical Association, and World Health Organization) views as an essential part of keeping not just one’s own children, but the whole world, safe.

However, there is one area in which I wish to quibble with Dr. Vastola, and that is in his explanation about why it is that the largest demographic (in the U.S.) currently refusing to vaccinate their children are educated, upper-middle class people. My memory is that he attributed this reality to that fact that that demographic is the portion of America that reads the most, and there is a huge amount of anti-vaccine literature available. The implication seemed to be that, although they read, they are not discriminating readers, and aren’t able to parse fact from snake oil.

As an educated, upper-middle class, white woman of child-bearing age(I don’t have children), I’d like to offer an alternate explanation. “Educated” means that most people in the demographic under discussion have gone to college, and many have attended graduate school. In college, particularly in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, one encounters implicit and explicit critiques of authority and the kind of hierarchical power structures that American medicine has historically enjoyed being at the top of. Every discipline from history to sociology to journalism is rife with stories of authority figures using their power for harm, or simply not knowing what the heck they were talking about (and so inadvertently causing harm). All of those disciplines, and a whole host of others, devote years worth of classes to deconstructing and criticizing the kind of authoritative, top-down worldview in which “experts” disseminate commands to the passive masses. And yet, that authoritative worldview is still the dominant one in the medical community. (Though I do not accuse Dr. Vastola or any other specific doctor of advancing that worldview.)

I think what we have is a deeper problem than what Dr. Vastola seemed to imply last night—that people don’t vaccinate their children because they read things, but don’t read critically. No doubt non-critical engagement with all kinds of media is a gigantic problem in America, and educated upper-middle class folks aren’t immune from sloppy thinking. But in the specific case of educated, upper-middle class people refusing to vaccinate their children, I believe there is a worldview clash taking place, in which one group of people are demanding the masses submit to the authority of science, statistics, and a medical worldview, and another group of people are resisting being (as they think of it) hornswaggled by the authorities (and hasn’t history given us limitless reasons to distrust authorities of every kind?). The situation isn’t helped, of course, when anti-vaccinators try to talk to doctors and are met with either derision or a gentle condescension, which only confirms their suspicions that doctors are operating within an antiquated and wrong-headed worldview. (Obviously these are generalizations; no doubt many doctors defy the norm, and quite plausibly Dr. Vastola is among them).

My point is this: until the American Medical Association and its members take seriously legitimate critiques of the power it has long enjoyed and assumed—until we can have a conversation about that—the vaccination conversation (a crucial converastion!) isn’t going to find its feet.

Thanks to Dr. Vastola, and to everyone who makes the “Doc Talks” possible.


This is a real advertisement for the Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall.

At the top it says, "Oh, look, a moose. Now, where's the mall?" And when you read that, you assume that the speaker is being sarcastic. You should be so lucky.

The text at the bottom reads: "Sure, taking in all that Alaska's great outdoors has to offer is nice. But taking in all that the mall's great indoors has to offer is even nicer. Especially on those really, really cold days. Just ask the moose. JCPenny, Nordstrom, Banana Republic, The Body Shop, Eddie Bauer, Gymboree, Sullivan's Steak House. 5th Avenue and C Street."

This advertisement is real, comrades. And it very nicely and succinctly sums up capitalism! I think that really, I should be thanking the folks at Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall for distilling capitalism onto one, slick page.

Monday, April 27, 2015

at the 1/3 mark, reflections on my new year's resolution

Now that we are 1/3 of the way through 2015, I'd like to reflect on how my New Year's Resolution for this year is going so far.

I have indeed stuck to my New Year's Resolution, by and large. To remind you, that resolution was to engage this year solely with the art of people who have been historically marginalized or are currently marginalized. In other words, to watch movies made by black directors, to read books written by lesbians, to look at visual art made by transgendered people, etc. Straight, wealthy, white men have had the dominant cultural voice for a reeeeeeeeeally long time, and consequently the majority of art and writing that I myself have been exposed to has been made by straight, wealthy, white men. So this New Year's Resolution grew out of a desire to engage with the creations of everyone else in the world (which is, in fact, the vast majority of people in the world; straight, wealthy, white men are by far in the minority!).

In these four months, I've stuck with my resolution for the most part. I've watched movies by Spike Lee, movies about women and black people and Albanian people, read books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Emma Donoghue, articles by Ta Nehisi Coates and Meghan O'Gieblyn, and listened to soul. There've been a few times when I've slipped, most notably to watch "Lawrence of Arabia," but mostly I've stuck to my resolution.

And it's been affecting me in ways I hadn't quite expected. It's to those affects and effects that I now turn. One thing that I hadn't quite realized that I'd have to think about so much is marginalization itself. I've been realizing that who gets silenced, and who gets heard, is a complicated matter in our society. For example, on Saturday I watched the movie "Citizen Four," a powerful documentary about Edward Snowden that I highly recommend. I may be an intellectual, but I'm not really drawn to documentaries, because most of them are boring. But "Citizen Four" isn't boring. It's surprisingly moving, and it's riveting, and it's about something that affects your personal and private life.

But here's the thing. When Edward Snowden decided to reveal that the United States government is spying on its own people, he was a rich, straight, white man with a lot of power. And yet, by choosing to do what he felt was the right thing to do, he became an extremely marginalized person, arguably one of the most targeted and scapegoated and ostracized people in the world.

So I've had to re-think marginalization. There are reasons that power wants to marginalize some people and not others, and those reasons tend to have to do with keeping those in power in power. Sometimes, engaging with the art of marginalized people is a radical act of resistance. But sometimes it's not really an act of resistance at all. The art of a gay man can be happily upholding the power status quo. The art of a black man can be misogynist. The art of a woman can be classist. The art of a poor, white man can be racist. It turns out that I've had to admit that being thoughtful about power and marginalization is a lot more complicated than just shunning books written by straight, white men. Although, I think that's a good start, because it's what got me thinking about all this stuff.

Speaking of straight, white men, hoo-boy am I tired of hearing the voices of white men who dominate speech or dominate physical space or dominate anything at all. Now that I've got these matters at the forefront of my mind all the time--because I'm trying to be extra-thoughtful about what I do and don't engage--I'm just so aware of how many straight, white men assume that it's Normal and Super Awesome for them to talk more, more loudly, and take up more space than women, people of color, gay people, and everyone else on the planet. Not all straight, white men are like this. But a lot of them are. And I notice it way more than I ever have before. And I have much less tolerance for it than I ever have before.

But then with marginalization on my mind, I also think more about ways that being straight and white doesn't guarantee you won't be harmed. But what I think that men should realize is that gender guarantees a whole lot more than men are usually aware of. And what white people should realize is that skin color guarantees way more than white people are usually aware of. And Americans should realize that that sweet blue passport still has so much power.

So that's my reflection here a third of the way in. Books and movies I recommend are over there at the right. I just watched "Kandahar" and it joins "Before the Rain" and "Ida" in being a fantastic war movie. In my book, the formula for a fantastic war movie = a movie that makes you feel sick at the very thought of war, and makes you never, never, never want to be anywhere near a war. Bad war movies are movies that make you feel a little jealous of people who get to be in war, or feel a little jazzed at the thought that maybe someday you might be in one. Disgusting war movies are movies that make you want to go join the nearest war. So, according to those formulas, the three movies I just listed are really great war movies. They will make you feel hopeless and absolutely despairing at the wars they portray. At the end of the movies, no hope at all will be felt. And that is exactly how war movies should be.

Not all the art I've engaged has been this bleak, certainly. Americanah was a delightful read, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was beautiful in addition to being sad, and "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" was inspiring. So far, I highly recommend making this resolution for a year.

P.S. Something about me--and I don't know if this happens to anyone else--is that I feel less depressed about life when I engage art that feels true. There's something about truth that gives me way more courage than sentimental Hollywood cheerful crap. So when I watch movies like "Kandahar" or "Before the Rain," I don't finish the movies and want to give up on life. I finish the movies knowing that they portray what is really happening in the world, and so I want to rally and fight for life. I feel like, "Terrible things are happening. All hands on deck! This is no time to sit around eating potato chips! Let's all figure out a way to help those who are truly powerless!" Whereas when I watch sentimental Hollywood cheerful crap, I feel very depressed and lethargic because it just seems like Distraction Method #792 in a very, very long list of distraction methods Americans have invented for themselves. Does anyone else ever feel this way? However, I think there's a difference between a movie like "Before the Rain" and self-reflective indie films that revel in artistically portraying pain and making suffering look compelling and interesting. Frankly, I think those movies might possibly be just as bad as sentimental Hollywood cheerful crap. Maybe even worse.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

psychotherapy & landscape

In a few days, I'll move from the house where I've been staying (the home of an essayist & naturalist) to another house where I'll be house-sitting (the home of a poet friend of mine). This has been a lovely place to be for six weeks. I'm so thankful.

While here, I found a book of meditations. I'd like to quote one of the meditations, written by James Hillman. I'd really be curious to hear what you people think of these words. They're about psychotherapy, and one key reason why it might not "work" very well in many contexts. The meditation begins with this editor's note: "Anima mundi describes the belief that our souls are not just within us but also in nature and in the world, and that damage done to the world is damage done to our souls."

Now here's Hillman:

"Let's take a husband and wife in a modern suburb, and they fight about drink and money and in-laws and love and little habits. Then he goes to analysis and she goes to analysis and the y ork on the relationship, and they are good sincere patients who try--group therapy, team or office therapy, family therapy, sex therapy--they get it all together as human decent people. They may even go to Church. And still there is a terrible misery going on, because the room in which they're set, its low ceiling, thin hollow doors, the bed, the dishes, the TV programs, the magazines, the light tubes, the furniture they have around them, and so on and so on, the whole world of material things, verbal things, institutional things in which their marriage is set is nasty, brutish, ugly, cheap, shoddy, vicious--without soul at all. Fake. How can they possibly straighten out their situation if the whole stage set including the lines in the script are fake?

"Wait--let me go on. Psychotherapy is something very strange in a world like this. It used to rely on a bourgeois world that had certain values and kinds of things, qualities, that had to be seen through, with irony, with skepsis. See the repressed. But that world has disappeared. The politics, language, education, institutions that upheld the marriage disappeared, the buildings, streets, lights, food, words, table and chairs are gone: but psychotherapy still works as if all that scenery is still around, analyzing the marriage with theories of 1920 in a 1980 set. Unless psychotherapy takes into account the sickness of the world, it can never really work, because the anima mundi is sick now. Pathology is "out there." You feel it on the highway, you feel it in the car, you feel it in your sense that something is out of tune, false or ugly or unemotional or without soul or vapid or sexless, tasteless. How can psychoanalysis justify itself, two people in a room talking?"

Sunday, April 19, 2015

learning about war

I highly recommend two movies about war. The first is "Before the Rain," a Macedonian movie somewhat in the style of the French Blue, White & Red series. The second movie is "Ida," a Polish movie about the after-effects of WWII. Both are in the very top tier of movies. Both do not remotely glorify war, not even one iota. It is impossible to imagine someone would watch either movie and have even the faintest desire to join a war or be in any way associated with a war.

The short story collection, "Redeployment," by Phil Klay, is also worth reading. Phil Klay was a Marine, and the short stories are about Marines in Iraq. The stories are well-written, gritty, insightful, and really depressing. Any piece of art that's about war and isn't really depressing is highly suspect.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ha ha ha ha ha, oh einstein

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.
-Albert Einstein

Friday, April 3, 2015

and this is why i love alaska

This isn't from our local paper. But our local paper has a section like this, where every day you get to read about what the police are up to. And it's stuff like this, all the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

quote of the day

This is from "One of the Best Ones," by Bruce Cockburn. He's so hit and miss, BC. He has these smashingly great lines. But his melodies are often murderously boring. It's a strange thing. Anyway, here's the quote of the day.

There are eight million mysteries
In the naked body
Can't even sight on some distant horizon

Like the nine billion names of God
Don't bring you any closer
To anyone you can simply set eyes on

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


It's surprising, sometimes, where you find good thinking or good advice. Today I very randomly clicked on some LinkedIn link, which isn't even something I'd normally do, not even on a slow day. But, I did. And I found this short essay-ette by Aasif Mandvi, who's worked on "The Daily Show." And you know what? It's the best reflection on writing and art in general that I've read in a while. It's also some pretty darn good advice about how to live life well. I don't understand why it's hidden away on LinkedIn, but I'm glad I read it.

Here you go:

Monday, March 30, 2015

if you want to borrow my gun...

Tonight I had dinner with a nice couple for whom I will house-sit in May. This was the first time I'd met them; they live "out the road" in the other direction from where I'm house-sitting now. We had a very nice meal together--roast, potatoes, roasted carrots, salad, and a rich chocolate mousse for dessert. I haven't had roast in...I don't know...months? Years? It was a damn fine meal. Particularly because the ol' food budget is sparse at present, so although I'm eating just fine my meals tend to be more along the lines of oatmeal and lentils and less along the lines of roast and mousse. Which, you know, lentils and oatmeals are good for the veins and the bones. But when you're living on a slimmer budget, having someone treat you to a feast does feel special.

My time with them this evening felt so Alaskan for me. For example. When I house-sit for them I'll be taking care of their 9-month-old Schauzer puppy, Sofi. She's cool. I dig her. I was saying to the husband of this couple that it'll be nice to have a dog to walk with, because I'm often afraid to go on trails for fear of running into bears. And the husband was like, "oh, well I have a gun if you ever want to borrow it when you go walking." And I thought--now there is a sentence that, if you heard it spoken in Oakland, would mean a whole different thing. 

Then he showed me around the house. It's a nice house. Big. Spacious. Fanciness in many areas. And they have a vintage Mustang in one garage and a swanky SUV in the other one. He was like, "obviously, you'll be driving the SUV. But if you do need to drive the Mustang, the keys are in it." And this is why I love Alaska. Mind you, not everyone in Alaska lets you drive their vehicles at the drop of a hat. But when people don't let you drive their vehicles, other people look at them weird. In two of the places I've house-sat, the people didn't let me drive their cars while I was there. When I reported this news to local friends they were like, "What the hell is wrong with those people?" 

Also, at another point in the evening they were telling me about the little Alaskan town (800 people) where they lived for five years when they first moved to Alaska. They talked about all the kids roaming freely, the way that you ordered your groceries weeks ahead of time and they were delivered on the plane, and you ordered your clothes that way too. And this couple were like, "yeah, it was so great in those days." And then the wife said, in a melancholy tone, "Of course, it's changed a lot since then. The streets are paved now. The airport is moved to a more convenient location." They both sighed sadly.

And this is why I love Alaska.

For another four weeks I’ll be in the place where I am now. Moving around so often is starting to wear on me, but on the other hand it’s cool to see so many different parts of Sitka. This place where I’m at right now is a humble abode, I suppose you’d say, but it’s my favorite so far. It’s got the best view by a long shot, and it has the kind of authenticity I can really get behind: quotes pinned up all over the place, bookshelves made out of split logs and 2x6s (not because it’s hip, but because it’s functional), and the original hand-built cupboards from 1941 (again, no hipness happening, just real life). Cast iron skillets in the kitchen and not much else by way of pans. A drawer full of re-used tin foil. Binoculars and tide books.

And then the place I’ll stay at in May—where I just had dinner—is fancy. Hot tub, big screen TV, a freezer full of local fish that they said I could dine on every night if I want. Big-hearted people sharing what they have. Including their guns. (And you have to understand that these people are not the gun-totin’ caricatures that so many liberal folks fear. Before they retired, the wife was a librarian and the husband worked doing things like overseeing trail maintenance of national parks.)

From a certain angle, Alaska can sure seem utopian. Especially if you’ve just spent three years in a deeply urban area where you craved wilderness every day. And especially if it felt ungainly and sad, in that urban area, to almost always meet up with people in places where money had to be exchanged (restaurants, bars, coffee shops). From that perspective, suddenly living in a place where strangers invite you into their home (and are wearing sweat pants when you get there, as per the norm in this state) and feed you feasts, a place where wilderness is run rampant in every direction including underfoot and overhead, a place where kids’ whole existence is free ranging….well, yes, it does feel utopian.

But it’s a lot more complicated than that, of course. The alcoholism rate in Alaska is very high. The suicide rate per capita is the highest in the nation. Three weeks ago in Sitka, a man in his early 20s overdosed on heroin. Many young people (and probably older people) use meth. And the relationship between Native people and white people is complex and, in many ways, difficult and painful. There may be no other state besides Hawaii where it is as stare-you-in-the-face obvious that this land is the ancient homeplace of one group of people who live here, and not at all the ancient homeplace of the other group who live here (who have the vast majority of the power). There’s nowhere I’ve lived where it’s more obvious that I am part of the colonizing people group, and I can’t figure out any way to think about that that makes me really feel okay about living here long-term. But then I think about how white people are in the exact same position in the Lower 48, but because of the existence of reservations, and the general annihilation of Native cultures, it’s just so much less part of white consciousness than it is in much of Alaska. I suppose maybe if I were to spend time with Tlingit people and get to know them, and then ask for their permission to live here, and if I felt like they gladly granted that permission, then I might feel okay about it. And even this, as painful as it is, draws me to Alaska.

I want to have a tidy way of ending this post. But at the moment, I don't. Goodnight, dear friends, from Alaska.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

quote of the day

"I don't think I'll ever get married because I don't like quibbling."
-Sarah Silverman

Monday, March 23, 2015

the house where i'm staying now

This is the house where I'm staying now. It was built in 1941 and much of the house hasn't been modified since then, like these wonderful kitchen cabinets. There must be something about this particular era of homes built in Alaska because I feel very at-home in this place. It reminds me of my grandparents' house on Bear Island, and I wonder if that was maybe built around the same time? 
Here's the stove, which probably isn't the original, but it sort of feels that way to me. It's propane, the kind you have to light every time you use a burner. 

Here's the livingroom. Back behind the couch, you see a row of didgeridoos. The owner of this home has a strong connection with Australia (I don't know what the connection is since I'm not acquainted with him yet....since he's in Australia) and the house is full of books about koalas and kangeroos, didgeridoos, maps of Australia, etc.

The view from the livingroom window in rain.

The view from the livingroom window in snow.

Here's the shelf beside the bed I'm sleeping in. The room where I'm sleeping is upstairs and faces a mountain. When I say "faces a mountain" I mean that this house is built right on the side of that mountain. Mt. Verstovia, in fact. Bears wander into the yard here on a regular basis, though at the moment they're mostly still in hibernation. 

View from the livingroom in sun.

Friday, March 20, 2015

a song deconstructing binary thinking

Sometimes I forget about Tim Minchin. And then I remember him. And I remember how much I appreciate him. And so, here's a song about something I think most readers of this blog will agree with: that people cannot be reduced to the goodies and the badies, the liberals and the conservatives, the real men and the faeries, the pure ones and the perverts. And etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

quote of the day

Love's the only house big enough for all the pain in this world. 
-Martina McBride

Monday, March 9, 2015

some quotes for the day

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."
-Carl Jung

"The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong."
-Carl Jung

"The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases."
-Carl Jung

Based on these three quotes, I think I am a Jungian!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

p.s.: white logic

Thinking a little more about what I wrote in the second half of the last post, I would like to say something about a certain form of white logic that I have often encountered in my interactions with my fellow white people. The logic is the way that many white people think about law enforcement and racial issues. The logic goes like this:

Logical Argument

1. I am a nice person and I never have trouble with police. Even if I'm pulled over for speeding, the cops are always nice to me.

2. Therefore, it must be my niceness that makes cops be nice to me.

3. Therefore, if cops are not nice to someone, it must be because that person was not nice to the cop.

4. A man got shot by the cops. The man must have not been a nice man. There is no other possible explanation for the shooting.

What I think that many, many, many white people genuinely do not understand is that their niceness is not the only reason, and not even the primary reason that cops are nice to them. This is not willful ignorance on the part of white people! Or at least it is not conscious willful ignorance. White people--at least many of the middle class, northern American white people I have met--really, really think that they never have trouble with law enforcement because they deserve to never have trouble with law enforcement. And why do they deserve it? Because they are upstanding citizens who obey the law. The idea that a cop would be racially profiling them, when pulling them over for speeding, or when driving around a neighborhood to make sure everything is okay...that idea never occurs to the vast majority of white people I've met. They really do think that if a cop is cruising their neighborhood that they have no reason to worry? Why? Because they know they are nice, pleasant, law-abiding people. The fact that they are white and middle-class does not present itself as relevant in any way at all.

That logical argument that I cited above is fraught with assumptions and with fallacies. But of course we all live our lives along the lines of all sorts of shaky assumptions and irrationalities.

Most white people don't think of themselves as white. I'm not sure how obvious this is to people of color. But it is completely true, at least in my experience and everything I've read. White people think of themselves as "people." And this is probably at the heart of the problem. Because they (we) don't think of themselves as white, are often (usually) even unaware of their race, it just never occurs to them that they might be racially privileged.


I don't know what more to say about this right now.

leaving before the rains come

Before I give my latest recommendations, I'll say something about myself, because I know almost everyone who reads this blog knows me personally and doesn't just come here for recommendations for stuff to read and see. I'm finding it harder and harder to write about myself on the internet though. Ever since I went off Facebook, 2 1/2 years ago, I've been on the slow slide to privacy. And I find that the more privacy I have, the more I want. This is so surprising to me.

Last night I went to a fashion show here in Sitka. A fashion show, the kind with a runway. I took my camera, thinking I'd take photos to share online with my friends--since, after all, 99% of my friends live far away. But as I sat there at the fashion show, watching all the models walk the runway, I kept forgetting to take pictures. When it would suddenly occur to me again that I had a camera, I'd feel amazed at how different my internal reality is from what it was, say, four or five years ago. I remember how, when I was on Facebook, I'd experience my experiences in terms of status updates. At any given moment of my life, I was aware of a potential audience.

The awareness of a potential audience isn't wholly gone, but it's mostly gone. And in fact, in most of my life these days, I don't have any audience or witnesses whatsoever. Since I left Ariel's--almost exactly six months ago--I've had big fields of solitary time to roam around in. And even at Ariel's house, I had so much more solitude than most people I know. Yes, I was responsible for Ariel, but we spent most of our evenings just in each other's company, and that was pretty quiet company.

It's not just solitude right now. I went with a friend to the fashion show last night. I'm part of a writer's group that meets every other week, and I had a friend for dinner on Friday night, and I talk to family and friends on the phone. But, at a time in life when most of my peers are busy raising children and visiting with the parents of their children's friends, and are generally busy, that doesn't seem to be the story I'm living.

Here are two recommendations.

Leaving Before the Rains Come, by Alexandra Fuller. It's a beautiful, riveting memoir about Alexandra's divorce from her husband of 20 years.

"Fruitvale Station" is a movie about the last day of Oscar Grant's life. Oscar Grant was a young, black man who was shot and killed in an Oakland BART station in 2009. He was unarmed, lying on the floor of the station with his arms pinned behind his back. Oscar Grant, as he is portrayed by Michael B. Jordan (who's been one of my favorite actors since he played in "The Wire") in the movie, reminds me so much of the young men who were my students in Oakland. Same culture, same context and language. To say that the movie is painful to watch is an understatement in the extreme. But I think that, especially for people who don't have contact with black culture, and/or urban black culture, it's an important movie to see. I think that the movie might come across as an overly rosy portrayal of a young man who "sold weed" and had a prison record. And it probably is a little overly rosy. But not so much as to be untrue. I think that so often people outside urban culture, or white people in general, have this image of what they think a "black person who deals drugs" is, or they think they know who a black man who'd been in prison could be and could not be. And what I want to say about the movie is that the young, urban (and I don't mean "urban" as code for "black"; I really do mean people who live in the city...because I know a lot of people who live in small towns, and boy is the culture different) culture I see portrayed looks to me exactly how young, urban culture looked to me when I rode the BART trains all around the Bay, and when I went into corner stores, and when I taught college a few miles away from where Oscar was shot. It's a culture that I think looks confusing and scary to a lot of white people, especially non-urban white people, for lots of different reasons. A lot of those reasons are insidious. The deep, deep ways racism is entrenched in the American system. And some of those reasons are just actual cultural differences. So many misunderstandings happen in the gaps between cultures.

Here's my point. I think that a lot of white people I know would see a movie like "Fruitvale Station" and they'd think to themselves, even if they didn't say it out loud, "I doubt that Oscar Grant was really that likable in real life. Because likable people don't get shot for no reason." And I just want to say: that simply is not true. It's not true. It's not true. I also want to say: even if Oscar Grant was utterly unlikable, even if he was a relational idiot who alienated everyone in his life, that doesn't mean he deserves to be shot, or even harmed. Being a jerk doesn't mean you deserve to be shot. Having a prison record doesn't mean you deserve to be shot. Selling marijuana doesn't mean you deserve to be shot. The crazy thing is that I feel like I need to actually state those things. That is the really, really crazy, fucked up thing. I feel like I need to actually say, "Being a jerk doesn't mean you deserve to be shot," because I have met so many white people who don't really believe that, not when we're talking about black people.

I'm sorry to end the post this way. May Oscar Grant be resting in peace. May his daughter be well, and may her life be full and long. May his family somehow, somehow have peace.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

consent: it ain't that hard

Here's a short explanation of sexual consent. Fortunately, pretty much everyone I know is savvy to sexual consent, and is down with it too. But there appear to be a zillion people out there who are not savvy or down. When you come across one such person, please direct them here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Two nights ago I watched a Polish movie called "Ida," that I highly recommend.

The movie is opens in the 1960s to a young novice, Ida, who has grown up in the convent always thinking she was an orphan. Then, just as she is about to take her vows to become a nun, she is told by the Mother Superior that she was born Jewish, and that she has one living relative, an aunt who has always refused to have any contact with her. The Mother Superior instructs Ida to go and visit her aunt before she takes her final vows.

The more I think about it, the more I realize "Ida" is one of the most perfect movies I have ever seen. Every single shot of the entire movie is visually gorgeous, and yet, by some kind of film miracle, none of it feels over-thought. Each scene must have been so carefully and intentionally filmed, and yet it doesn't have any of the hyper-self-consciousness that so-called art films often have. The two main characters, Ida and her aunt, are played by Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzubechowska with almost unbelievable understatement, but I don't mean unbelievable in the sense that the characters are not believable; I mean it in the sense that you can barely believe how well the actors have mastered their craft. I can't imagine an American director--or group of actors--ever risking making a movie involving so little facial expression.

It's a serious movie; this is a Poland in which the Holocaust is still fresh in the minds of each character (about which I will say no more, so as not to give anything away). Serious things happen in the movie. Complicated and profoundly tragic things arise. And yet, the respect of the camera, and the respect of the actors for their characters, and the way that the film is careful and intentional and so much the opposite of overwrought, all of it combines to make the movie a safe space. I felt, within the first 15 minutes or so, that the movie was not going to inflict something unbearable on me, as the viewer. And I was right. Somehow a quiet promise was made to the viewer early on, and it was a promise kept. Given the movie's content, I'm stunned at the mastery involved in keeping that promise.

Monday, February 23, 2015

text crisis line

My friends, I just today came across the news that there is a text crisis line. The number is 741741.

In other words, if you are in crisis, or even just need someone to talk with, you can text this number. And someone will respond to you within 5 minutes. And talk to you for as long as you need. All via text.

Please spread the word around to anyone you think might find this information helpful.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Actually, I have nothing to say about frogs. But I couldn't think of a better title.

I just listened to a TED talk about mental illness, such as psychopathy. It's not your average TED talk. There's nothing anything specific that the speaker is trying to say. But it's mighty thought-provoking all around. Give 'er the ol' listen.

The same chap who gave that talk wrote a long article recently in the New York Times, about what happens when a bunch of people gang up on another person, on Twitter, say. Or in other ways. What happens to the psyche of that person. Well worth the read:

Life here in Sitka is rainy, which I mean literally and not metaphorically. It's very nice for introverts, because without sun you don't really feel any sort of moral obligation to go outside. So that is nice!

And that is all I have to say today.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I highly recommend the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Highly.

It's not your ordinary Hollywood movie, which frankly is a compliment. And just so that I don't have to make that disclaimer over and over: probably most of the movies I recommend this year won't be your ordinary Hollywood movies.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

round & round & round

A brief update: I've moved from the Jealousy-Inducing House (see previous post) to a house on a lake overlooking mountains. It's a less glamorous house, and a better fit for me. I'm right in town, within walking distance of everything. It's very good. And the couches and chairs are comfortable. And there's a tea kettle (the glamorous house had every kitchen gadget known to humankind, but I could not find a tea kettle--??). I'm grateful to the owners of this house for many reasons, and mostly for asking me to be in their house while they are gone on vacation for the next five weeks.

I've been listening to the Dixie Chicks on the stereo and singing.

I have friends here in Sitka. More friends than I had the whole time I was in the Bay Area (though the friends I did have there were lovely, and still are lovely, and I miss them). There are certain parts of culture in Alaska that make more sense to me than culture anywhere else. Like the way that people loan you things you need. If you need a car, and someone has a spare car, they loan it to you. If you need food, people give you food. If you need a skillsaw, someone will loan you a skillsaw. It's a libertarian culture, which I think outsiders think means that everyone keeps to themselves forever and doesn't want to share. But that's not remotely the case. It's just that Alaskans don't want to be commanded to share. But left to their own devices, at least on the level of friends and community, this is by far a more sharing community than all the progressive places I've lived--and I've lived in some of the most progressive places in the country.

So that's curious.

There are other parts of Alaskan culture that are less awesome. More about that another time.

I now will make a thematic jump. The jump is to a website/sub-website that I found yesterday, by chance. It is a sex sub-reddit community on What this means is that the website, (which is like a mega-site for a bunch of other internet site) has a sub-site (like a sub-culture) that is focused on sex.

Now, I want to recommend this sub-site, but I want to state very clearly that this recommendation is not for everyone. This sub-site is within the "sex positive" culture, meaning that it's part of a culture that is embracing of people of "all genders" (queer, gay, straight, transsexual, etc.), and it is also a culture that is also embracing of polyamory (having more than one sexual partner), as well as monogamy, polyandry, polygamy, and all sorts of other sexual expressions and experiences. So if engaging with such a sub-culture does not sound great and awesome to you, I recommend not even clicking on this link.

If, however, you are down with sex positive culture, or at least down with most of it, or at least aware of what "sex positive" means and have pondered it thoughtfully in the past, or at least not offended and upset by vast explorations of sexuality, then I recommend this sub-reddit group!! It seems to be filled with lots of respectful, informed, thoughtful, curious, cool people. I frankly have never encountered any website, especially a website with thousands of visits a day, where people are talking about sex and bodies and relationships in such positive ways. It's crazy! Everywhere from youtube to The Atlantic is full of lost souls saying awful things about women's bodies and women in general and being alive in general.

You can also ask questions on this sub-reddit group. Or just read around.

So, without further ado:

Let me add one more disclaimer: By posting the link to this group I'm not claiming to condone or endorse any particular thing that anyone in the group is saying. There are varying opinions and experiences and expressions going down in the conversations there. I do, however, condone lots of respect and lots of openness and lots of listening and lots of acceptance. And that seems to be going down in most of the conversations. And that is very, very cool.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Saturday, January 31, 2015

newlyweeds....? + a strong book recommendation

I've been on the lookout for a movie in which black actors are the principal actors, but the movie is not primarily about race. Tonight I found a movie that fit that description. It's called Newlyweeds. It' Well, it's kind of a pothead anti-pot movie. It's as if a stoner made a movie about why not to be a stoner. In a nutshell.

So.....that was interesting.

I'm not going to say I recommend the movie exactly. But I'm not sad that I watched it.

Something I do recommend is the book Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Here's how I would summarize the book: 1. Going forward, whenever a white person has the nerve to tell me that racism isn't a problem in America anymore, I'll tell them to read that book before speaking to me further. 2. Whenever a liberal white person speaks to me about being in a post-racial society, I'll ask them politely to please read the book. 3. Although the book is about American culture from a Nigerian perspective, and about post-colonial politics in America and Britain, and post-colonial life in general, the thing that really kept me reading was the love story. And it's a love story that's worth reading for, until the very end.

two recommendations of the day

Last night I listened to a radio program that was stunning. It is really, really, really, really worth listening to. Like, really worth listening to. I highly recommend listening to it. You will not regret it. Here's the link to the show. Make sure to listen to both part 1 & part 2.

Secondly, on Radiolab's blog, there are before & after photos of Native Americans who entered Carlisle Indian School in the late 1800s. The photos are very worth seeing. They're riveting. They're also upsetting, at least to me and many viewers (including the women who wrote about them for the blog).

collectively, unconsciously composed

Here is a 2-minute song about how I feel right now.

How I feel is--oddly, inexplicably--that I miss San Francisco. Sitka is ten million times more beautiful than San Francisco. Maybe not more beautiful than San Francisco was 400 years ago. But exponentially more beautiful than it is now. Baranof Island, on which Sitka is located, is pristine, almost entirely untouched. It's wilderness. It's gloriously gorgeous. Being here, I realize that love was there in San Francisco all along. It was inside the hearts of every person in the city. That is the truth. And inside the hearts of all the dogs. And all the birds. And all the flowers. That might sound like hippy-dippy shit, but oh well. After all, this is San Francisco we're talking about. I miss the music of San Francisco. I miss the possibility of music. There were these dance clubs I wanted to go to, but I couldn't get up the nerve, and besides I didn't want to go alone. There was one called Dance Church. I wanted to go there. I love to dance. I so love to dance. Music has held inside of it a gift that is there, locked inside the music, no matter what else is happening. This is true. There are other true things too, of course, that stand alongside this truth. That's okay. I miss knowing that the Castro is right there, just across the Bay Bridge. Which is weird, because I was never conscious of being comforted by the Castro being there. I don't miss the sunshine at all. I don't miss the traffic, and I feel like I never shall. I don't miss the way that city people seem to think the only places to Be are inside places. And the way they think outside places are curious temporary places to visit. But I suspect that eventually I'll miss crowds. I hadn't quite figured out where to find a good crowd, a dance crowd, a huge group of people doing something together that feels good. But I would've found that eventually, I think. Of course, I might find that in Sitka too. Maybe. I don't know. If you got every person in Sitka together at a dance party, you'd still only have nine thousand people. That's just a tiny fraction of how many folks show up at Gay Pride, for example. It's like I'm missing something I never really had, or never actually engaged. I was engaged in stuff, when I lived in the Bay, but not city stuff. I was engaged in the boring everyday stuff of loving and caring for a person who has no memory. For example. And planning classes and grading papers and eating out alone. It's not that I was disengaged from the actual life I was living; it's just that the actual life I was living didn't have all that much to do with the place I was living that life in. Which didn't feel good. So I left. For that reason and other reasons. I don't think I couldengage the place, when I was there. For whatever reason. But I can imagine a group of people with whom I could engage a city. I'd like to meet those people.

Friday, January 30, 2015

this is me, in sitka, alaska

I'm standing in the water. I'm wearing boots. The mountains you see behind me are mountains of Baranof Island. I'm also standing on Baranof Island.

Monday, January 26, 2015

television: an important discovery

As everyone who knows me or who has ever knows me knows, I am against television. The ads: atrocious. The shows: ridiculous. Etcetera, etcetera, you've all heard me (and Neil Postman) say it before. That is, up until now. I've lately been exposed to television that is so absurd that I'm actually revising my views altogether! It's so absurd I almost think it's good for us!

For example, last night I watched a show called "Paranormal Sasquatchivity." Yes, this show exists. And yes, the people in the show do appear to be sincere in their search for paranormal sasquatches. Sasquatchii?

Watched on its own, this show will make you erupt into random fits of mayhem. But watched with other people, this show promotes community, laughter (which promotes endorphins, which in turn promote mental and physical well-being_, and many critical thinking skills (as collectively you can analyze just how many fallacies the sasquatch-hunters are committing).  Yes, watched with other people, this show becomes the glue that holds it all together. And by "it" I mean life, sanity, the world.

So, in conclusion, I have no conclusion. But I will tell you this. Last week I met a woman who was downright judgmental of people who watch television. And I was like, what the fuck, yo, stop being so damn judgmental. Everyone knows that TV isn't the best way to spend your time. Everyone knows this. No one does not know this. So find me the person who always and only does the rightest thing every minute of the day. Find me that person! I guarantee you that person is not judgmental. If you're doing the rightest thing all the time, you may not be watching TV, but you're also not wasting your time judging people that are.

So, in short, sasquatches: are they real? How would we ever know?????

the first sunset (just now, 10 min ago) i've seen since arriving in alaska two weeks ago

This photo was taken standing inside the livingroom of the place I'm staying.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

by the way

Over there on the right, I'm keeping a running list of the books & movies & essays that I recommend, that I'm reading or watching as part of my 2015 New Year's Resolution, to read & engage the art of historically/contemporarily marginalized people. The art itself may or may not have anything to do with marginalization.

If I think that a movie or book is not for everyone (i.e., might offend (for reasons like profanity or violence--not because it might offend by virtue of being anti-racist) or trigger some people), I will notate that with NFE;RF, which means not for everyone; research first.

masks, hierarchies of trauma, and fresh air

Some soldiers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made masks to express what their internal experience. These masks are being featured in National Geographic, in their February issue. Some of the masks are also displayed on the website. They're really worth seeing. And I don't think that they are upsetting to see so much as they are humanity-invoking. There are so many internally wounded people all around us (some who are soldiers, some who are not), and these masks remind me to try to be gentle with everyone, because you truly never know who might be suffering greatly. Here is the link to National Geographic's display.

There are two other recommendations I have, both related. The first is to an article in The Atlantic, written by Conor Friedersdorf, whom I find to be incredibly thoughtful on subjects related to gender and sex. This particular article is about a blog comment written by a straight, "nerdy," white professor who wrote, in the comment, unusually honestly about his the sexuality of his adolescence. His comment is an attempt to engage radical feminists on terms that straight white men don't usually engage radical feminists. That comment prompted a series of responses, in well-regarded places like The New Statesmen. Friedersdorf sums up the whole thing, which turns out to be about feminism, all kinds of marginalization, privilege, hierarchies, power, empathy, compassion, and trauma. He then offers his own perspective on how we might collectively move the conversation to even better grounds than they're currently on (and in his view, at least, the dialogue that's been spurred around the internet by the original blog comment has been largely positive dialogue; but he thinks we can do even better). I think it's super worth reading. It's here.

(By the way, the reason that I think that article is related to the soldiers' masks is that it can be easy (for some people, myself included, sometimes) to look at a male, macho-looking former Marine and think of him just in terms of someone who has done and is trained to do violence. Or who is valorized by the American people as one of "our troops" and therefore above reproach. It can be easy to think that he could never understand anything about the suffering of, say, women. Or transgendered people. I think that Friedersdorf's article has some relevant and important things to say about that.)

And finally, related to both of the above, on the NPR show "Fresh Air" this week, the journalist and former soldier, David Morris, was interviewed about a book he recently published about PTSD. He was an embedded journalist in Iraq when the Humvee he was in hit an IED; although he survived, he sustained the traumatic brain injury that is PTSD. (I don't think I realized prior to listening to this interview, that PTSD is classified as a traumatic brain injury.) He then began researching PTSD, which is suffered by survivors of many experiences, including rape, war, and natural disasters. His writing is extraordinary. Here's a few lines: "We are born in debt, owing the world a death. This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a surprise glimpse of that darkness, the coming annihilation not only of the body and the mind, but also, seemingly, of the world." See what I mean? This is not your average informational guide to PTSD or your average journalism on war. The interview is really worth listening to. Here's the link.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

recent essays

I've been published some recently, and have some upcoming work as well. In August, my poem "We Thought We Needed a Boat," and my essay, "The Crossing," were published in Connotations, which is a small journal here in Sitka. In November, my essay, "Picking Raspberries," was published by The Baltimore Review. Coming up in the next month or so, my essay, "Sleep," will be published by Emrys Journal. In the Fall of 2015, my essay, "Manhandled," will be published by The New Ohio Review. And I just found out moments ago that I won the 2nd Prize of Nonfiction at Literal Latte for my essay, "David the Green Dragon Goes to the Opera." I don't know yet when the essay will be published, but I'll let you know.

For most of these essays, I'm writing under the name Tamie Parker Song, which is what I'll be changing my name to, as soon as I can get myself settled here in Sitka. My full name will be Tamie Marie Parker Song.

I'm so grateful to all these journals, for publishing my work. It's a big deal to me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

the open door thing

Among my friends in Sitka, everyone leaves their home doors unlocked. I've been in towns like that before. In Flagstaff, I left my door unlocked. What's new to me though, what I haven't experienced before, is that in Sitka people not only leave their doors unlocked but they walk right in to each other's houses. Without knocking. Or, like, they knock and then just immediately open the door. It's extraordinary! What I like about it is that it feels like people think the whole town is one big house or something, and so they can sashay between houses and open each other's doors and it's all good. It's like everyone's having one long conversation, and at any moment someone could open your front door and march in and continue the conversation.

I'm not exactly sure what people do if they want to have sex or fight though. Hm. Do they lock their doors? But is that weird though? Because wouldn't people feel, well, locked out, if they went to open a neighbor's door and it was, well, locked? And then of course you get into the situation where everyone knows that someone's wife works 9-5 at the post office, and the husband is home alone, but then someone goes over to his house and the door is locked. Which, well, clearly he's not having sex with his wife. So then, what is he doing? But what if he's working on his model airplane collection? What if he wants to work in peace on a model plane without having to worry about random neighbors opening his front door and picking up the debate about gun control? A debate that, in Alaska, is hardly a debate, since the ratio of guns to citizens is 7 to 1. So, hm. Is he really working on his model airplanes? I know I have my doubts.

I see now that the whole open door thing seems like an adorable small community thing but actually it is a self-policing mechanism wherein anyone at anytime can check up on you and so you better have your shit together. I bet it works pretty well too. Certainly if Granny Gerda wants to get into "model airplane building" she's going to find some backwoods cabin in which to do so, so as not to perturb the neighbors.