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Guest Post: Madeleine L'Engle

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.17.21

Nick S. writes: This story about corresponding with a man in prison about writing (as part of the The PEN Prison Writing Program ) is very well done.

It raises all sorts of questions about power, and responsibility, and individual reactions to system inequalities and wisely doesn't try to answer any of them. It just offers a fascinating story with a range of resonant details.

"Madeleine wasn't big on the 'project.' She was big on the individual," says author Sidney Offit, a member of the PEN Prison Writing Committee in the 1970s and 1980s, who was a close friend of L'Engle's and co-taught a workshop with her. The saturating joy in her own life was conjoined to an awareness of vast darkness which "cannot extinguish the light," she wrote to Rahman during the first Easter of their correspondence. "I still believe that the tiniest acts of love do matter."
L'Engle's approach to mentorship as well as friendship was holistic, probative. She did not believe that writing could be taught, and she never taught technique--plenty of books existed for that, she said. Instead, she listened. She asked questions. "It's not me," students remember her saying. "It's what people bring and what gets released."

...

Although L'Engle's first letters brimmed with feedback Rahman had requested--critiques of his work, suggestions for improvement, a reading list that included authors from Shakespeare to Virginia Hamilton, the first Black author to win a Newbery--he struggled to reconcile his assumptions about her with his ambitions for a fruitful literary exchange. Two months into their correspondence, he came clean with his doubts:

"I feel that I've reached an impasse in my literary relations with you," Rahman admitted. "Crosswicks, Ltd.," he mulled, as if thinking aloud. It was the name of the company that owned the copyright in L'Engle's works; he had seen it printed on the pages of Wrinkle and in Dragons in the Waters, which she had just sent to him. "It sounds so established, affluent and conservative." Just as disconcerting, she appeared to be very religious. "I can't help but to associate this religion with delicate lace scarves and ever more delicate ladies, in deep communion with their God. It's all so idyllic, so much the American Dream. But I write about that other side of the coin--the American Nightmare. And nightmares are some of the most beneficial human experiences because they almost always pinpoint major problems...."

Heebie's take: It's a good article! Rahman schools L'Engle on racial dynamics, and she absorbs his criticism reasonably well and allows the mentorship to become a two-way street.

Also, that poor guy. Clearly a brilliant person, spends 21 years of his life in prison following an FBI sting operation.


 

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Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 12/16

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.16.21

This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while. There is no way it could function as that sentence implies, but it's still nice to have a thread.

Episode Kobe eight.


 

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Supreme Court thread

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.16.21

Every time I try to read an article about the Supreme Court lately, I end up clicking away out of emotional self-preservation. However, maybe you have more stomach than I, and would like to share your most terrifying read lately.

In lieu of a post, I will share a very weird video. Provenance under the jump.

This is a novelty song by Rick Dees, from 1976. Even as a novelty hit, it's pretty weird.

One of the Geebie running household jokes is to sing this little fragment of song that was playing at a carnival duck ring toss game, on repeat, back in 2019:
Ring a ring a duck
Ring a ring a duck
Try your luck!
Don't be a cluck!

I googled the last two lines, and while the tune has morphed over the years, it appears to be lifted from Rick Dees' 1976 hit novelty classic.

Now go find the most depressing Supreme Court article out there, tiger!



 

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Short term

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.15.21

We discussed omicron a week or two ago, but it was mostly in the sense of how to roll recurring variants into a new normal, and when to start seeing the pandemic as a status quo. Clearly only so much can be known about the omicron variant at this point, and so maybe it's serious and we're still in crisis, or maybe it's less severe and we're heading towards stasis.

Are any of you thinking about modifying your holiday plans due to omicron? How bad would it have to turn out to be to cause you to reconsider your plans?


 

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Guest Post: Alenka Artnik

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.14.21

Snarkie writes: Here's another link. It's a profile of a world champion, the Slovenian freediver Alenka Artnik, in a sport I knew nothing about, but it's well-written and she comes off as absolutely fascinating, competitive but not in the usual sports-striver way and having apparently achieved something very close to a moment of enlightenment after a very difficult early life.

Heebie's take: good lord, this article is beautiful - both the writing and the whole layout and background. At the beginning, the idea of free-diving gave me, well, the heebie-jeebies, and I thought the article would feel perilous to read, like Into Thin Air or something similar. But it actually is a very soothing, calming read.

Also there is clearly a new medium emerging where you integrate visual aids into the story as it's unfolding, like a NYT infographic read. This article is not doing quite that. This article is using background images more like the soundtrack to a film. They really enhance the beauty of the whole thing.


 

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Guest Post - The Next Coup

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 12.13.21

Nworbie writes: It may be that we already have a slight oversupply of gloom and doom about US politics. None the less, this long read from the Atlantic (and it is long) will illuminate your ignorance and deepen your despair.

tl;dr the combination of force and fraud necessary to steal the next election is already in place and the mechanisms for this theft are under construction. (assuming the Democrats don't hand it to their enemies anyway)

Two take-aways:

1) the one reliable predictive factor in making insurrectionists was experience of affirmative action, from the wrong end, and living in places where the ethnic balance was shifting against whiteness. Nicely illustrated in the testimony of a retired firefighter with whom the author interacted for months:

Patterson bought a one-way ticket to New York, earned a bachelor's degree in fire science, and won an offer to join New York's Bravest. But desegregation had come to New York, too, and Patterson found himself seething.
In 1982, a plaintiff named Brenda Berkman had won a lawsuit that opened the door to women in the FDNY. A few years later, the department scheduled training sessions "to assist male firefighters in coming to terms with the assimilation of females into their ranks." Patterson's session did not go well. He was suspended without pay for 10 days after a judge found that he had called the trainer a scumbag and a Communist and chased him out of the room, yelling, "Why don't you fuck Brenda Berkman and I hope you both die of AIDS." The judge found that the trainer had "reasonably feared for his safety." Patterson continues to maintain his innocence.
Later, as a lieutenant, Patterson came across a line on a routine form that asked for his gender and ethnicity. He resented that. "There was no box for 'Fuck off,' so I wrote in 'Fuck off,' " he said. "So they jammed me up for that"--this time a 30-day suspension without pay.
Even while Patterson rose through the ranks, he kept on finding examples of how the world was stacked against people like him. "I look at the 2020 election as sort of an example on steroids of affirmative action. The straight white guy won, but it was stolen from him and given to somebody else."
Wait. Wasn't this a contest between two straight white guys?
Not really, Patterson said, pointing to Vice President Kamala Harris: "Everybody touts the gal behind the president, who is currently, I think, illegitimately in our White House. It is, quote, a woman of color, like this is some--like this is supposed to mean something." And do not forget, he added, that Biden said, "If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't Black."

and, (2) There is a shop called "Rapture Guns and Knives". It is in Florida.

Heebie's take: I will stake out the bold position that this did not make me feel more pessimistic about the state of the nation. The argument for the next coup is mostly rooted in how the last coup went, and how the massive delusions of the right wing have hardened into place over the last year. Beyond that, it's mostly the about the retaliation efforts that we're already aware of.

One other note:

With a sufficient dose of truth serum, most Republican politicians would likely confess that Biden won in 2020, but the great mass of lumpen Trumpers, who believe the Big Lie with unshakable force, oblige them to pretend otherwise.

I cannot tell you how much I love the phrase great mass of lumpen Trumpers.


 

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