#ElectionDay2016: No Such Thing As The Right Hands

Soul + Spirit
trumpclin

Source: MiCDaily

White supremacy, or white feminism? I left my local polling place thinking about this, even after turning my ballot in.

In an interview with the Boston Review, Junot Díaz spoke about global and critical dystopias and the future of literature. The past few months have been riddled with political discourse so disheartening that for the first time in recent years, 81% of Americans wished for this election to be over.

Still, I can’t tear myself away from it all, in spite of the hypocrisy, the deception, the bigotry, for reasons that Díaz points out in the interview.

“This is of extraordinary importance, because what we bring—our critique of the present, our understanding of the present—is absolutely essential to produce a future. Our lack of presence in these areas, or our small numbers in these areas, problematically guarantee that in the future the toxic present may continue itself. We have got to chase these regimes everywhere they go, whether they imagine and re-imagine and re-create themselves in a past, whether they imagine, re-imagine, or re-create themselves in a fantastic other-space, or whether they are attempting to colonize the future. We need to go there and defend humanity, defend our humanity.”

Defending our humanity comes in the form of different things, whether it’s showing up to the Republican National Convention wearing a “Make America Read Again” hat the same way this librarian did, writing letters to the future president, or by standing with other writers to unequivocally oppose, as a matter of conscience, the presidency of one candidate.

The soul can become weary, and I have a stack of books at my disposal, with other worlds to explore. There are also lists like this, recommendations of books to read after the election.

In the end, we’re still stuck with the same system, no matter who wins. Teju Cole got it right, in this interview with poet Adam Fitzgerald:

“Not talking about Trump now…I thought the Snowden revelations were very deeply consequential, and people were like ‘Eh… you know. It’s Obama. He’s not gonna do anything bad with it.’ This fundamental undermining of what it’s fair to call a sacred principle: it would be easy to say that in the wrong hands, the effect could be devastating. But what I actually want to say is that there’s no such thing as the right hands.”

No such thing as the right hands because no matter who wins, we’re still caught in the same system where we have to continuously defend our humanity.

Still here, still breathing, still struggling.

Dear President: Letters from Writers & Poets

Sunday Spotlight

I was on my way to grab a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when a magazine
so16_covercover arrested my attention — Teju Cole, on the Poets & Writers September/October 2016 issue. I walked out of Green Apple Books in San Francisco that evening with both the book and the magazine, tickled by my 1) discovery and 2) the fact that the guy who made me want to read Conrad in the first place was staring back at me from a magazine.

In addition to the wonderful feature on Teju written by Kevin Nance, I was enthralled to find a feature called Dear President: A Message for the Next Commander in Chief From Fifty American Poets and Writers wherein poets and writers offered their perspectives and longings on what the country needs. The prompt:

Imagine you are face-to-face with the next president—whoever that may be—and, in a few sentences, write about what you hope to see addressed in the next four years. It turns out something pretty great happens when you ask writers to convey, without a lot of political grandstanding, what is most important to them.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“There is no present or future without immigrants; white supremacy (and all of its sequelae) is one of the gravest threats to our democracy.”
Junot Díaz

“The occupation of Palestine by Israel—mass incarceration, presumption of guilt, withholding of resources, wanton destruction of human life, all underscored by the creation of physical barriers and the emotional propaganda of persecution, exclusion, mythmaking, and fear—are mirrored, one by one, in the policies of institutionalized racism in the United States. Unless we face this singular fact, and acknowledge our collective culpability as architects and sponsors of state terrorism here in our American cities, and in our foreign policy regarding Palestine (which is the bedrock of all other foreign policy), we will continue to be unable to fulfill the potential of our democracy for our people, and remain excoriated abroad for our impotence and hypocrisy.”
—Ru Freeman

“Your country is complex; it is hard to imagine a foreigner being able to fix it for you. Keep this in mind when you consider invading another nation.”
—Karan Mahajan

“There should be a new cabinet post—Secretary of the Arts. For the inaugural six poets: European, Hispanic, Asian American, African American, Native American, Muslim.”
—Ishmael Reed

“No language is neutral. To speak is to claim a life—and often our own. If more Americans speak to one another, in writing, in media, at the supermarket, we might listen better. It is difficult, I think, to hate one another when we start to understand not only why and how we hurt, but also why and how we love.”
Ocean Vuong

I admit, the presidential election makes me weary, tires me out. It is devoid of the hope and fire that once fueled me back in 2008, as a Green Card-holder who couldn’t even vote. I can’t blame my disinterest on either Trump or Clinton though, because how I view U.S. politics now is drastically different from how I understood things before. It amazes me that Trump has made it far in this election, spewing the kind of rhetoric his campaign of bigotry and hate has been built on. What Hillary stands for and what she’s done in the past makes me uneasy.

Both candidates, while representing extremes of the political spectrum, are still functioning in a system which can never assuage the intersection of my identities: working class, brown woman, immigrant, queer.

But these words, from “some of our most thoughtful and articulate citizens” (as P&W lovingly refers to them) give me hope. I’ve always looked up to writers and poets to create and envision the kind of world we need. As poet Ken Chen writes,

“America has often seen itself as a beacon of democracy, but the American project has always been about a settler project of inclusion and exclusion: democracy for those imagined as real Americans, and inequality for slaves, immigrants, black and brown bodies, and those who live in places the United States has colonized or destabilized, most recently Iraq and Libya. I hope that you can see yourself not just as a standard-bearer for a global economic elite, but as a force for equality and justice for all.”

But shoot, vote for what it’s worth.

#GetLit: A Libromance Round-up 

Muse if You Must

I started this blog in January 2016 and since then, I’ve posted over thirty book reviews, literary features and weekly lists. I’ve learned so much as I continue to devour the most fascinating and enlightening books, and it is my hope that I am able to impart what I learn through Libromance.

I am ever grateful to all my readers and subscribers — for you, for the time, generosity and love you’ve shown my little corner of the world. Thank you so much.

In the coming weeks (and months and years!), you can expect more book reviews, features and weekly musings. If you have any ideas or suggestions, say hello and drop me a line!

Here’s a round-up of the best Libromance reads:

The Rituals and Routines of Creatives A Sunday Spotlight piece featuring the habits of writers like Bob Ong, Stephen King and Annie Dillard.

A Personal Cartography with the Work of Junot Díaz A post on my personal experience reading Junot Díaz’s work — from Drown to This is How You Lose Her.

Can Buddhism & Activism Ever Co-Exist? Reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book led me to question the possibilities of Buddhism and activism.

A Different Way of Looking with Marcel Proust and Alain de Botton This is a compendium of how I was inspired and influenced by the French author, through the eyes of British philosopher Alain de Botton.

Finding Time to Read An honest-to-goodness list of ways on carving out precious reading time.

Sunday Spotlight: A Personal Cartography with the Work of Junot Díaz

Sunday Spotlight

This was the order of how I first fell in love with the works of Junot Díaz: The title This is How You Lose Her spoke to me as I dealt with my own grief, after the end of a four-year relationship. The last story in the book healed me, with its honesty and the courage of facing your own pain heart-on.

You ask everybody you know: How long does it usually take to get over it?
There are many formulas. One for every year you dated. Two years for every year you dated. It’s just a matter of willpower: The day you decide it’s over, it’s over. You never get over it. (from The Cheater’s Guide to Love, This is How You Lose Her)

I looked for Drown next. And there, nestled in the annex of Green Apple Books was an old copy, its yellowing pages looking golden. I settled into a story called Boyfriend one evening, drawn to the perspective of an outsider looking in the story of a couple breaking up. Wanting to cross lines, to be there for someone else’s heartbreak, to hold another person’s pain in the hopes of dealing with my own. I had a similar experience when I read one of Saeed Jones’s poem Blue Prelude later on, from his collection Prelude to Bruise.

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Art by Kate Gavino (Last Night’s Reading)

And then there came The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a historical fiction of epic proportions about love and war in the Dominican Republic. This is where I got my introduction to the horrors of Trujillo and history, the wars we try to win every day within ourselves, the complexity and pain of family.

You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams, and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I let her say what she wanted about me, and what was worse, for a long time I believed her. (from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)

Díaz’s work has stayed with me ever since. Some time ago, he and Toni Morrison engaged in conversation at the New York Public Library on race and writing, which is worth watching repeatedly.

And then I came upon another gem, an Asymptote interview of Díaz. He delves into the complexity of language, the intersection of history and literature, an perhaps more importantly for me — how one can fully live inside a novel for days, for weeks.

As compensation for how difficult life was for this young immigrant in Central New Jersey in the seventies, I buried myself in literary worlds. I was reading voraciously by the time I was seven. A more omnivorous reader, I don’t know if that would’ve been possible. I would read all the biographies of famous Americans. Books on the Rockies. Books on how to build a campsite. I would read everything by Arthur Conan Doyle. I read the edited children’s editions of Edgar Allen Poe. I just tore through everything that my little elementary school library had. I fell in love with books that transported me far away from my world, which for me was very stressful. The library for me represented—or was—what the World Wide Web must mean to people of later generations. In many ways it was a plane, a passport, a lens, wisdom, and experience. (from An Interview with Junot Díaz)

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Art by Kate Gavino (Last Night’s Reading)

I know I’ve been drawn to Díaz repeatedly because there are so many parallels to his experience and mine. Immigrant, wanting to get a grasp of history of self. Writer, wanting to get a grasp of language. Reader, holding on to words for survival.