The God of Small Things: A Review

41iffjvqdQL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_In honor of the publication of Arundhati Roy’s second novel, I decided to read her first one. I was very impressed with The God of Small Things (1997). Roy tells a story in a way that I’ve never heard a story told before. It is as though she has invented her own language for the novel; she has written not in English, but in a playful, pleasing gobbledygook that describes how bilingual children think and communicate. It is also clear, from the way the story is structured, that this is the predecessor for Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Lowland (2013). The God of Small Things is not chronological, starting with an assortment of details spread out through time and space, and ending with the driving incident of the plot. This creates a sense of timelessness, a feeling that facts and memory are interchangeable and are rarely affixed to time. It also frequently creates an abrupt tone shift at the end, as though the incident on which the novel centers is a buried treasure at the end of a map.

You all should know by now, I include spoilers.

I deeply appreciate Roy’s sense of humor throughout the novel. I feel as though she would understand me when I say I have laughed in classes about genocide. She tells the story of a miserable family whose members (at some point or another in their lives) live in the town of Ayemenem in the state of Kerala, India. The novel takes place in 1969, when Communism was on the rise and gaining ground in India. In this setting, 9-year-old Sophie Mol dies. Rahel and Estha, who were 7 when she died, deal with the fallout of this incident well into their adult lives.

I love Roy’s sense of humor throughout the novel. She uses it as such a great vehicle for satire. For example, Roy likens Kochu Maria, the house maid, to “a bottled fetus that had escaped from its jar of formaldehyde in a Biology lab and unshriveled and thickened with age” (p. 162). This is hysterical. I think the formaldehyde is a great detail. Who goes that deep into detail to convey how ugly a person is? Apparently Roy does. Kochu Maria was basically the accomplice who helped Baby Kochamma lock Ammu in her room and falsely accuse Velutha of rape. The description of Kochu Maria is that of an antagonist, but perhaps also of someone who has so deeply internalized her own oppression, it has corrupted her very image.

I also like the radical potential of what Roy says about adults versus children. Many of the adults in the novel are hypocrites. For example, Chacko claims to support the Communist movement, but is a wealthy landowner. And Comrade Pillai, who leads the Communist party, is amicable to Chacko. Pillai compartmentalizes his ideas of Chacko by reasoning that “Chacko-the-client and Chacko-the-management were two different people. Quite separate of course from Chacko-the-Comrade” (p.115). Chacko reminds me of Yuri Zhivago of Doctor Zhivago (1965). Yuri, too, supports the communists and their movement in Russia during World War I, though he does not realize that if the revolution succeeds, it will have disastrous effects on his life. Chacko also naively supports communists from his ivory tower. Arguably, it is a Marxist (Velutha) who overthrows the balance of Chacko’s life. He loses his daughter after a chain of events that starts with Velutha and Ammu “breaking the Love Laws” (p. 311).

The children, by contrast, are transparent and logical in their belief systems. This is most clearly illustrated in the chapter when Sophie and her mother, Margaret Kochamma, arrive at the airport. Ammu repeatedly tells the adults to ignore Rahel, who she says wants attention, and gets mad at Estha for being shy (p. 139). However, these seem like perfectly reasonable reactions for children to have when meeting strangers for the first time. In Harvey Jackins’ theory of re-evaluation counseling, one would say this shows how little capacity parents (or any adult, really) sometimes have to think about children in healthy ways. The adults are so caught up in their own desires for how things should go, they forget that they are caring for very intelligent, observant young people.

As cruel as it may sound, the fact that Sophie Mol is the character who dies actually makes sense. Sophie Mol surprises Estha and Rahel because she is so not the perfect angel that all the adults make her out to be. She tells Chacko that she loved Joe more than she loves him (p. 180). She refuses all of Baby Kochamma’s advances (which pleases Estha and Rahel–she seems to be their least favorite relative) (p.180). She is also arguably the person who is most in the role of the observer, the “witness” so to speak. She watches the adults force the children to play roles in a ridiculous “Play” (p. 139). She watches Velutha display incomparable kindness to the twins, unlike any of the other adults (p. 181). Thus, when she dies, it is as though Roy is commenting on the nature of observers of injustice. The contradictions we need in order to believe that race, caste, and the hierarchies we enforce are not real exist right in front of us, if we just choose to examine them. Oftentimes, we choose to ignore them, and societal institutions are set up to get rid of the people who choose to look.

It is also interesting to compare the deaths of Sophie Mol and Velutha. A commentary seems to be made here, too. Sophie Mol is simply an observer of things she shouldn’t see, and thus goes quietly into the night, disappears, so to speak. Velutha is not only an observer, but is actively resisting hierarchy. He marches in the streets with the Marxists, he has learned skills that other Paravans have not, and he falls in love with Ammu. He is in turn actively stomped out by several police, society’s rule-enforcers and hierarchy upholders.

The only part about this book that I don’t digest completely (or perhaps I have truly become a curmudgeonly old person in my mid-twenties) is when Ammu and Velutha finally have sex. While it is described as the “fumble and rush of unfamiliar love” (p. 317), it’s very pristine. There is no awkwardness. I suppose one could argue that perhaps Velutha and Ammu are at an age where sex is no longer awkward, but I don’t believe that either. I think people who are unfamiliar with each other are always a little awkward, especially if they are dealing with each other physically. Human beings do not touch each other nearly enough in civilized society to understand their bodies well. Oddly enough, I think it is the description of how Velutha navigates that puzzles me the most. Perhaps this is my own prejudice coming through. It is not actually his class background that makes me think this–I am sure poor and working class men, especially men as gentle as Velutha, know exactly how to give women pleasure. It’s actually simply the fact that–at least as far as the novel is concerned–Velutha is a man. A straight man. And at least in my experience, men are clumsy. So self-hating and self-conscious that they couldn’t possibly be as deeply attentive as Velutha is to Ammu. That too, on their first night of sex. It was a bit of a stretch for me to believe.

Velutha is the most compassionate character, though. I think even I fell for him a little when he was playing with Estha, Rahel and Sophie when they dressed up in saris. Although they look like raccoons, Velutha treats them with the utmost respect, gives them coconut water, and talks about the weather (p. 181). As an adult, Rahel observes “It is after all so easy to shatter a story…To let it be, to travel with it, as Velutha did, is much the harder thing to do” (p. 181). It is both sad and beautiful that he was a much better parent to the twins than their own parents. It was a good thing he was in their lives. They had at least one kind, respectful adult looking after them. I think that is the real tragedy of the novel. That with Velutha, the twins had so little time.

 

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Thoughts on Crazy Rich Asians

My apologies to y’all for being on hiatus for so long. I am actually undergoing some major changes in my life, specifically a career change. I am going back to school to become a civil engineer. I start school again in September. It’s gonna be an adventure.

craAnyway, a good friend and I recently watched Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Neither of us had read the book beforehand, but I thought, listen, we’re getting a movie with an entirely Asian cast. Clearly we cannot miss this.

There is a lot about Crazy Rich Asians that makes it really different from other romantic movies. The friend I saw it with is Korean and is familiar with Korean soap operas, and she says the movie is “basically a Korean soap opera, but in a 2-hour movie instead of a 20-hour television series”. I understand what she means; the film does a much better job of character development than the average romantic comedy.

First of all, I think both Constance Wu and Henry Golding deserve better than the roles they were put in. Wu is such a badass. She could easily play a lead role in a Marvel movie. In this film, she plays kind of a sappy, second-wave Asian girl who somehow doesn’t know who the richest family in Singapore is even though she’s an economics professor at NYU. Is anyone else not a little bothered by this? Isn’t it supposed to be harder to fool a woman of her caliber? Purportedly, the novel is based on some truth, but I feel like there was a way to portray Rachel Chu that makes her look less silly.

My friend and I also had problems with Nick Young (Golding) as a character. In my friend’s words, “He seems dumb. He has no empathy for Rachel. When she’s being destroyed, he offers her sushi.” I do see her point. My critique comes from how Nick doesn’t seem like a real character. The story focuses so much on Rachel and her experience of the family. Nick barely does anything, which makes him look like a mama’s boy who gets whatever he wants. Maybe that was the point. I was just hoping for someone more complicated. Hasn’t Golding played Oscar-nominated roles before, or am I getting my Asians mixed up?

My other problem with the film is that the supporting characters are FAR more interesting than the two leads. My god, where do I begin. First, I’m in love with Astrid Young (Gemma Chan). According to my friend, there is a character like this in every Korean soap opera: a beautiful model-girl/lawyer/CEO who is modest and kind to everyone. She reminds me a little of Raina Amin (Yasmin Al Massri) from Quantico. I love that moment when she tells her husband, Michael (Pierre Png), that she can’t give him something he has never had, and walks away. Seriously, the supporting women in this film carry the entire movie.

Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) is also such a fierce bitch. I love all of her outfits. When I’m an old Asian woman, I want to be that gorgeous. Honestly, I was a little bored with the fact that the future-mother-in-law is the antagonist because if you observe what she says, Eleanor is not actually working against Rachel. She is just brutally honest. When she says Rachel could never measure up to the family’s expectations, she speaks from experience. As a first generation child of immigrants, I can relate to that sentiment. I try to be honest with my white partner about what my family will expect from them. If anything, Eleanor is doing Rachel a favor.

On a tangent, I thought the story would have been more interesting if Rachel and Nick did not end up together, but perhaps were brought together by circumstance later on in their lives, perhaps after a child or two and a divorce or two. I think that would have been a more realistic story. But I guess the movie had to appeal to an American audience, and Americans are hardly realistic.

In addition, Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina) is fantastic. Her family is fantastic, too. She and Oliver T’sien (Nico Santos) are the gay best friends that everybody needs to have. I love how she shows up to the Young’s estate in dog-print pajamas and changes in their house like it’s no big deal. She is also a fucking good friend to Rachel (women, take note: this is how to be there for one another in the most feminist way). She gives her the outfits she needs to fit in with these crazy rich people. She gives her a place to stay when she’s bummed and has no will to do anything (because she thinks she’s not going to end up with Nick. Women, take note: this is a stupid way to be. Being with a man is not everything. They should have gone to the mall and been fabulous.) She knows how to have a good time and not take herself seriously. Best character.

I do enjoy the cast of goofy men in this film, too. Ronnie Chieng as Eddie Young is perfect. Ronnie does a great dickbag impression. I also very much enjoyed Jimmy O. Yang as Bernard. In the words of my friend, “there’s always that one guy who wears ridiculous things and is a huge asshole.”

While the plot is a bit contrived, I do enjoy the absolutely beautiful shots of Singapore. My mother has been to that country and I greatly envy her for it. I love the implication that Asian countries can and do compete with the U.S. as beautiful places. I have always contended with the idea of a “first world” and the rest of the world, and while this movie perhaps does not contradict that (it is about rich Asians, after all), it does challenge the notion that all Asian immigrants were escaping communist dictators or abject poverty. Now someone just make a movie about crazy rich Arabs, and I shall be satisfied.

All in all, I would say Crazy Rich Asians is a visually stunning piece with some notable supporting female characters. Though I wish the same could be said of the main characters, I am impressed by the level of detail that was given to the supporting characters. There were so many, but I did feel as if each one was a whole person. A work in progress, I hope to see more in this vein, but bigger, more fireworks!

Impressions of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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So today, after a two-month-long romp with Junot Díaz’s novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I finally finished it. I am left with more questions than answers. For example, why did Díaz choose to write the novel the way he did? The lengths of some sections are curiously long, others curiously short, and I wonder if the emphasis or lack thereof are significant (they probably are, and I am left with the task of finding the answers for myself. That may actually be the point).

It is a curious novel, to be sure (“curious” in this context signifies “mysterious” and “peculiar”). I do love that Díaz chooses to begin the novel with fukú and zafa. It gives the entire novel that lovely magical-realism feel that I am so enamored of, à la Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I might say the resemblance ends there as far as the genre goes…I could argue Díaz does it in his own way. I also love his frequent footnotes, which are so long at times it feels as though I am reading two novels for the length of one. The act of physically separating the history of the Dominican Republic by footnote gives the novel a duality that isn’t usually present in narratives. One gets a sense of how much is going on politically in the macro-environment of the country, even while the main course of the book focuses on the trials and triumphs of one family, the De Leons. One could, in theory, choose to completely ignore the footnotes if they wanted to, and it would be a completely different novel. Being a complete dork, this was not the route I took.

There is a lot I love about Díaz’s insane descriptions of the Trujillo-era Dominican Republic (and subsequent Balaguer-ruled D.R. as well). Admittedly, I did not know much about the DR before I picked up this book, but Díaz makes Trujillo sound so scary, I fear retaliation from him even though he’s been dead for 60 years. This dude sounds like a classic fascist (no freedom of speech, violence against anyone who speaks against him) with the added perk of misogyny (rape, stalking, being a general asshole). It’s fascinating how Díaz connects this all-powerful dictator with the De Leon’s (Belicia’s affair with The Gangster, who was one of the Trujillo sisters’ husband). It makes the DR feel like a small place. Even orphan girls are just 6 degrees from the ruler of the country.

The novel felt oddly elastic sometimes with regard to what was easy to read and what wasn’t (perhaps this is because it took me 2 months to read, but perhaps there is more to it). Personally, “The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral” was one of the hardest sections to get through. Belicia is one of the most difficult characters for me to relate to, and I wonder if that’s just my feelings or if Díaz wrote about her that way on purpose. Young Belicia seems hard-headed and illogical in ways that seem to compliment her future son’s illogical passiveness. As a teen, she is belligerent to La Inca, the one person who really has her back, and seems to take the Aries approach to falling in love: be an asshole to people you have a crush on. It’s hard to watch her fawn over The Gangster, someone who is obviously so bad for her, and then brag to her friend Dorcas about how good he is to her. After she miscarries, it’s difficult for me to feel anything other than pity for her.

This is not unlike the pity I feel for Yunior, though for completely different reasons. Díaz does a great job of portraying Yunior as the fuckboy of the century. Yunior comes off like one of those dense dudes who only cares about the gym and screwing girls, until something actually serious and meaningful happens in his life. It’s interesting that he is the narrator and that he doesn’t appear until mid-novel or so, and the book is a manifestation of this sort of awakening he has after Oscar’s death–about how the experiences he has gone through have meaning, that the people in his life had meaning. After the events that happen, he seems to have the hindsight to wish he could change things, but he also seems surprisingly accepting of himself, explaining that he did in fact love Lola, but knowing he doesn’t deserve her nor could he give her what she really wants.

I love Díaz’s tone throughout the novel, the mixing of both Spanish and English throughout the story. He speaks in a familiar way (perhaps to me), that way of immigrants, which involves hilarious exaggerations, sarcasm, crassness. Perhaps one of my favorite lines in the novel is when Lola is crying over the death of Max. On the plane, “When the woman in front turned around and said: Tell that girl of yours to be quiet, [Belicia] said, Tell that culo of yours to stop stinking” (210). I swear, the first time I read that sentence, I put the book down and guffawed for a whole minute. Admittedly, old Belicia is also a much more compelling character in my opinion than young Belicia.

The run-ins with death are also compelling, not least because of the symbols. When Belicia is caught by Trujillo’s goons, and when Oscar tries to commit suicide, a golden mongoose appears for both of them. The mongoose is said to be a symbol of courage and protection, so it makes sense to me that it appears when these two are at their lowest point, and in need of guidance (both literally and physically. Both need to find physical safety and also to not succumb to the spirit world). The faceless man also appears any time a character is about to have a near-death experience. I didn’t feel like looking up this symbol because honestly, sometimes it’s more fun to leave it up to the imagination, or to try to interpret it myself, which I will attempt to do here. There’s something about the facelessness that suggests two things to me: a fucked system in which people can disappear without a trace, or becoming so much a part of a group (dead or alive) that faces don’t matter (this is an idea that’s kind of toyed with in Code Geass, no?). Both kind of apply. During the Trujillato (and arguably afterwards as well), humans lose some of their humanity. In the chapter about Abelard, we learn how people could be handed over to the government by their own friends. Disappearing is not unusual in the Trujillato, nor is losing things like one’s identity or sense of self, which is symbolized by the faceless man. The self-effacing aspect of national identity is kind of the other side of the same coin. To be able to do the sorts of things the Trujillato needed regular citizens to do, turn their backs on friends, snitch on one another, people had to forget the things that connected them to other people. The faceless man could also be a symbol of that dehumanization process.

Compared to the rest of the novel (these gruesome near-deaths and this tumultuous family history), Oscar’s death is very quiet, almost anticlimactic. It’s almost as though there was a degree of inevitability to it. I would even argue Díaz does this on purpose. I suspect that actually, Oscar had planned to die. Earlier in the novel, his suicide attempt fails, but we know that Oscar is not doing well. He isn’t happy. So instead of continuing to live in New Jersey and suffer, he plans to die for something he believes in–his love for Ybon. Arguably, his last days aren’t so bad, if Yunior’s account is to be believed. He finally gets to spend time with Ybon alone, he finally has sex. I would argue he knows he is going to die for it.

I think the last thing Oscar says is actually really deep and resonant. Díaz writes, “He told them that what they were doing was wrong, that they were going to take a great love out of the world” (321). If you think about it, it’s a pathetic thing to die for. Oscar dies because he has the feel-feels for a ho with a fucking mean boyfriend. That’s, like, really not what you want to see on your kid’s gravestone. But the meaning he gives it is so noble. It is wrong, killing someone who loves another person, so arguably, murder is always wrong. But you know, who is to say that one person’s love is any greater or less than any other person’s? Who is to say that Oscar’s affair with a taken woman is not as valid as any other person’s love? Oscar seems to intuitively know this. He seems to know that to break people’s connections with each other is cruel, to separate them by death is a crime. I think we need more Oscars in this world, at a time when institutions are hell-bent on deporting people, building walls, making it hard for the poor to live, and making sure military-grade weapons are easy to come by. I think an Oscar would know how sad that all is, and would at least have the words to help us name the problem.

Ode to the First Woman I ever Loved

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Credits: Leonie Barkakati. Swollen River, Montague, MA

I guess the ugly truth I know now is that nobody, not even women, cares about women who love other women. I don’t even have to look too hard to find the apathy. Literally everyone I have come out to so far has responded with “I don’t care”. It has not occurred to them to congratulate me on finding a good person, the best person I have had a relationship with so far. It has not occurred to them to tell me they are happy for me. It has not occurred to them that this is what I really want.

I guess I ought to have expected nothing more.

I guess, more for my own sake more than for anyone else’s, I have wanted to write about the first woman I ever fell in love with for quite a while. I can’t quite explain the reasoning. My brain has been rather foggy these days, either with seasonal depression or just with bad food. I think on one hand, it’s about proving something. I think people in my life suspect I am going through a “phase,” like all the other ones they have seen Leonie go through over the years. I guess they think I will soon see the error of my ways and yield to other people to make decisions for me, like I have so many times in the past.

On the other,…and that’s the thing, I don’t know. I waited ten years to come out properly, but I knew I was queer when I was 15 years old. And I guess I can start my story there.

For the sake of privacy, I have changed her name, but the first girl I ever loved was Wendy Chau, who I met when I was a freshman in high school. She was a year older than me. We knew each other from the Speech and Debate team and from the newspaper staff.

I knew I admired her, but it was a different admiration than the people I usually used the word “admire” for.

I think queerness was this question that I knew, but I refused to ask myself. I knew it was an inconvenient time for me to have these feelings, and although I had never seen anything overtly violent, I knew it was dangerous for me to be queer. No one ever suspected it about me, never brought it up or asked directly, so the only person who could ask me was myself.

I put it off for a long time, the asking of the question. But my fondness for Wendy grew every day. I liked her very much. She was wildly intelligent, but not arrogant, unlike many of our peers. She was a brilliant math student, debater, musician, and writer, and everyone had great confidence in her ability to teach. I think I liked how silly she could be. She would laugh at things I said and call me ridiculous in jest, but I took such pride in being able to make her laugh. I liked that I was close enough to her that she let herself be vulnerable sometimes. She once told me I ought to do things that make me happy, not things I felt needed to be done out of obligation. I have held on to that thought ever since.

It amuses me somewhat that nobody figured it out the entire time that I loved her. I talked about Wendy all the time, tried to make every conversation about her somehow, how much I admired her, how smart she was, how kind. I suspect most people just didn’t think I could be queer. They thought I was an innocent little Indian girl who does everything mommy tells her to do. I guess that’s not what queers look like.

One year, we went with the newspaper staff to a conference in St. Petersburg across the bay. On the first night, at dinner, she was wearing a shade of pink lipstick that I don’t think I have stopped thinking about since the day I saw her wear it. I wanted to kiss her, though I never acted on the impulse, and finally the question had to be asked. Was I in love with her, a girl? And the answer was yes, I most undoubtedly was.

I was surprised, shocked even, that that was the answer. I did not think I was capable of loving women, had never considered the possibility that queer was a word that could apply to me. There was no gay-straight alliance at our high school (I don’t think there is even now), and the only queer person I knew was a gay white guy who hung out with one of my friends.

I thought I should detach myself from her. Who knew how Wendy would feel about me if she ever found out? I didn’t want to know. I knew keeping my distance would keep my heart safe.

I never told her. I watched her give a truly magnificent speech as the valedictorian of her class. Her last interp performance at the Speech and Debate banquet my junior year was also excellent, and one I will always remember. She was a good friend and a kind person, and I have remembered her that way.

I thought perhaps that was some quirk of being in high school, some flaw in my system which went away after Wendy graduated. My hope was short-lived. Not even two years later, I fell in love with another woman, one who had a boyfriend so I wouldn’t act on the feelings with her either. I’d get to grad school in Massachusetts and fall in love again.

I am queer, whether or not I like that about myself, whether or not I think it is good. I remember telling this to a co-counselor of mine the other day, that it’s not something anyone would choose. Statistics for queer people of color are abysmal. (I can’t find any links at the moment, but honestly, read a book, they’re not hard to find.) They apparently can’t keep jobs, can’t get housing, can’t access healthcare or education, and are at high risk for mental health illnesses. I don’t think anyone looks at a life like that and says, yes! That sounds like a wonderful way to live!

And here I am, giving testimony that I have, in fact, been this way for a very long time. Life has not been peaceful since this process started, but the thought that pacifies me somewhat is that I have not done anything wrong. It is not wrong for me to love someone who was assigned female at birth. Our love story is as beautiful as any epic ever written, even if no one will celebrate it with us. We are not doing anything wrong.

Things I would not trade

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Evening in Tampa

I read this really great article on elephantjournal today that I think is a good way to process how jealous I am. I’m going to put the thoughts it provokes here.

I’m in my first ever queer relationship with the most adorable non-binary human. We’ve lived very different lives. They’ve been out for almost ten years and have dated several women. I’ve been out for…well, it’s debatable, but I’d say about 4 months, even though I have known I was queer for ten years, and they’re the first person I’ve ever dated who wasn’t a cisgender man.

And I am always jealous. I feel it all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I have never been jealous like this before. Every time it comes up, I feel every second of those ten years. I feel as though I wasted all that time.

I think the article asks this very important question, one that I have to remember in those moments when I’m blinded by my own anguish. Would I give up everything about me just for that one thing I am jealous of? Because that is what those feelings point to.

I can’t possibly name all the things about myself and my experiences that I wouldn’t give up, but I’ll try to name at least a few of the important ones.

I wouldn’t give up my mom, my dad, or my brother. I wouldn’t give up my grandmother and grandfather. I wouldn’t give up trips to India, not the blazing heat of summer or the damp cold of winter. I wouldn’t give up being able to speak Hindi and Assamese. I wouldn’t give up Kaziranga, the elephants, the rhinos. All my cousins. All my aunts. Gold earrings. Cheap trinkets. Mekhlas. Praying with my grandmother early in the morning, the ritual of it, the flowers, the incense, the water. The things she taught me. The lychees, the jackfruit, the jammu. The fruits which I don’t remember the names of. Running around in the garden with my brother and the young people who help in the house. The smells. The dust. The bats. The insane driving habits. The pouring rain, and sailing little paper boats in the gutter.

I wouldn’t give up my first bhangra team. How we didn’t have outfits yet, so we just wore whatever old salwars were lying around in the house. The cheesy choreography. The way Paradis would tell us not to flail and would then flail continuously himself. How Charles’s hair was always stupid. All of Aditi’s photographs.

I wouldn’t give up Dr. Barnet. I can’t remember the name of the class I took with her, but I remember how she loved when I talked in class. She loved that I wanted to go to graduate school, and she helped me get there. I will always be thankful to her for that.

I wouldn’t give up Leah, the first person I would ever consider a mentor. I remember how kind I thought she was to apologize when she made a mistake. She would make food for us at staff meetings. She used to wear such colorful things. And she was such a beautiful person. Supportive of every endeavor anyone wanted to undertake, even if it seemed outlandish. Helped me establish the APIA Affairs anthology. I miss her.

I wouldn’t give up Alex, another mentor. How deeply I fell in love with him, and how funny it is to me now that I even admitted it to him (after a long time). His beautiful speeches. I remember he was the person who taught me that our weaknesses are an opportunity to connect with other people. He put me in charge of a team, gave me responsibilities. Structure. I was so annoyed with him. I had no idea what I was doing. He took me to conferences. Asked me to plan events. Gave me the closing speech at the end-of-the-year ceremony. At the end of it all, I still cannot believe how much I accomplished. I could not have done it without Alex.

I wouldn’t give up all that crazy shit I got up to at the University of Florida. Poetry classes with Professor Logan. I felt he always chose my poems on either the days that they sucked, or the days they were stellar. And when they were good, he was so generous with praise. The residence halls. The days I spent as a resident and then a Resident Assistant. Duke and Chelsea and Nicole. Brandon. Taxidermy. Poop in the oven. The kid who didn’t know how to do laundry.

The dance teams, the dance teams! Punjab di Asli Pehchaan. I never actually got to perform but, goddamn! Did they teach me some good form. Gator Bhangra. So much fun. Huddling in the cold under the stadium. The insanity of coordinating for performances in other cities. Shumaila’s 21st birthday. Laal ghagra. VISA talent shows. Diwali. The Asian student assembly. Such pride. Then joining the Chinese American Student Association team. Practices that were also chaos, but so much fun. Mid-autumn festival. Garba for the very last VISA show.

My littles. My Alicia and Maria and Amy and Narayan. How fiercely, fiercely proud I am of all of them. How fondly I remember all of them. How I met them (APIA affairs or AASU, every last one). Lake Wauberg. Reading groups. Late night talks. Surprise visits after I graduated. Getting drunk and then hungover. ECAASU. Horrible bangs. Pretty dresses. Big plans. Bigger dreams.

All the things I love about Gainesville. Micanopy. The Devil’s Millhopper. Downtown. Flaco’s. Las Margaritas. Spanish moss. Foggy nights. Midtown. Casadega. Moonlight on the beach. Love. Loss. Gatorship. The courage of all these people who tell their stories.

I would not trade Eun. Or Will either, but I wouldn’t tell him that. I wouldn’t trade Oriental Flavor or Crazy Noodles or that house where Rob lived. I wouldn’t trade Rob. I wouldn’t trade Rick and Morty with Rob. Or Quarg.

I wouldn’t trade all of RC. Ya-Ping and Rebecca. Kara and Amy. Vivian. Maya and Sujata.

I wouldn’t trade Hinduism. I wouldn’t trade that car ride up here with Dad. Or helping Roktim move. I wouldn’t trade discovering my city by myself. Driving alone to beaches and parks. Discovering Western Massachusetts by myself. Walking down country lanes. Walking up green hills. Finding winding rivers and craggy rocks. Tall trees. Old bridges. Tiny towns. Farms. Icicles. Perfect snowflakes. Crunchy snow. The way snow coats tree branches. Watching it fall deep in the woods. The silence. Beauty.

Sunsets.

All of the love and laughter. I wouldn’t give it up.

I love my sweetheart. I am happy if they are happy. I will not be small when they are happy. I will try to be me for them.

You Remind Me

Y’all know my man Usher.

Who can bear this agony?

You know what’s fucked up? I’m not talking about being alone or breaking up. Both of those things actually seem fairly bearable. I’m talking about being with someone.

I found my sweetheart…at an aikido class. No, I’m not making that up. And uh…I can’t believe they agreed to date me. I quite literally mean. I cannot. Believe. They’re mine. Like, every time they call me “dear”, I kinda look around wondering…are they talking to me? I mean, because my sweetheart is. Beautiful. Intense in this wildly attractive way. And it’s not like there aren’t other people who are attracted to them. From what I can gather, they’re quite popular among these queers of Northampton. So when I stop and think that literally all I did for them to like me is ask if I could spend time with them, I think this can’t be real life. No tricks? No hit it and quit it? They don’t just want arm candy? They’re not a douchebag? They’re not trying to steal my money? Or use me as an emotional crutch? Like, what’s the catch here?

I guess on some logical level, I can understand there is no catch, but I can’t seem to focus on them. Instead, I seem to be focusing, through them, on everything else. And there is A LOT of everything else, y’all. A lot. I never realized that in my first queer relationship, I would be wildly protective. I refuse to tell my best friend their sun sign because I know she’ll tell me everything about them that I know but don’t want to hear. I refuse to talk to straight men about them because they seem to want me to treat them the way straight men have treated me, and that disgusts me on a molecular level. My very molecules are disgusted by that idea.

They’ve dated a bunch of women before me, and the jealousy is just insufferable. I thought that both of us being ace would make this easier for me, but if anything, it seems to make things worse. The only other person about whom I remember feeling this way is my (current) best friend when I was in love with her, but she rebuffed my advances every time until I no longer felt romantic interest in her and became her best friend instead. We were never together (I can’t imagine what being jealous of her if I was with her would have felt like). But this, this human, my sweetheart, my torturer, they don’t get jealous too frequently (must be nice. That might be slight sarcasm), thus they’ll share things about past relationships that make me want to tear out my organs and set them on fire. The things they’ve said about the most recent ex makes me want to hunt her down and kill her. I probably wouldn’t even feel remorse for it.

Obviously, I’m working through all of it because I really, really want to be there for my sweetheart. I really want to enjoy every moment with them instead of…dealing with whatever stupidity is going through my head when I’m with them right now. How the fuck does one do that, though?

I think the thing I fear most is not that the jealousy will manifest. Deep down, I know that would never happen. It never has in the past. No, what I do best is something I have perfected. I’d abandon them, if it gets to be too much for me. Give them no way to contact me, no way to see me. It will be as though we never met. I suspect that might be very painful for them, a person who has kept in touch with several exes. I’m not a hero. I guess it doesn’t matter to me whether or not people think I’m a good person after I break up. The way I am right now, I’d walk out on them the second I feel like it’s too much for me to handle.

And that would be sad because in truth, they wouldn’t be the problem. I’d be the problem. I’m that tragic human who, I guess, didn’t get enough validation at some critical point in the past and now can’t accept when other people like her. Romantic comedies are written about cliche shit like this. Now you know a real life version.

I’ve been told that a good way to deal with feelings is to think of what this current situation reminds me of. More often than not, the things we have encountered in the past have conditioned us to react similarly in the present to situations that we think are the same. In truth, the situations could be completely different, and thereby deserve to be given unique responses.

That’s where Usher comes in. My sweetheart reminds me of another person. My first friend, we’ll say. (Technically, I think my brother takes that title, but he was also a boy, and he was family. So that’s different.)

For the sake of this post, we’ll call her Divya, though if she were ever to read this, she’d probably know exactly who I’m talking about. Yes, my first friend and I met…come to think of it, 20 years ago. It’s 20 years ago this year.

We met in summer of 1997, right after her birthday. I was so mad I missed it. I loved birthday parties. Looking back, my mother trusted Divya’s mom because she was also an Indian immigrant, and needed a place to keep her kids while she and my dad worked. Divya’s mom needed similar support. So I’d argue it was more of a political alliance. But I was an innocent kid. This girl, she looked like me. We’d get confused for each other at school. We were both little brown girls. I thought it was pretty apparent that we should be best friends.

We did everything together. Everything. We joined Girl Scouts together. We went to the same elementary school. We both got into the gifted program. In second grade, we both wanted to become dolphin trainers when we grew up. We bought the exact same orca plushies and played together with them all the time. We made blanket forts. We would bike together. We’d play tennis together. In high school, we would join band together.

But as the only two brown girls most people knew, we were pitted against each other a lot as well. There was an unspoken competition in everything we did. Everyone knew she was the more athletic of us two. I was the better writer. She could sight-read music better, but I had been playing an instrument for a longer time. I was better at math. She was better at physics. She became a tomboy. I guess I became…the brown girl next door? It seemed that way to all the boys I was always hanging around with.

I was very protective of her. I remember there was this time in Girl Scouts when we were putting on a play, and our parts were assigned randomly (we picked them out of a bag). Everyone was mad that Divya received the lead role. They kept complaining about how somebody else (themselves) would’ve been better for the role. I told them to fuck off (or like, the 9-year-old version of that).

She was in all of my stories, the ones I used to write as a child. She was a main character in every single one. I shared all of them with her. In real life, we never told each other we cared for each other. We never really expressed our affection for each other. To be honest, it has been a long enough time now that I wonder if the affection was real. It may have been one-sided this whole time. I might never know. In the stories, though, my character and hers would always express it somehow. Some way. Usually some grand gesture. If I could put an emoji here, it would be the one rolling its eyes. It’s painful to acknowledge how obvious it was that I wanted those things to happen.

I cared so much for her that I would turn my back on people I cared about for her. To this day, I do not know if those were the right decisions I made. There was a Bosnian girl who lived next-door to me. I knew Divya didn’t like her, so I might have been a little distant from her intentionally because I cared about Divya’s approval. I liked the Bosnian girl, though. She was an Aries, kinda wild and very stylish. Another time, in high school, I liked this boy that played french horn in band, and Divya knew. One day, this girl in Divya’s homeroom died of pneumonia. French horn guy was in her homeroom. Divya thought he had said something insensitive about it. She told me what he said, her disapproval quite apparent. I didn’t admit my feelings to him for three years after that. By then, it was too late.

I thought nothing of it at the time. She meant a lot to me.

So when she chose some white girls in band over me, of course I confronted her about it. I told her they seemed shallow. That their interests were completely different from ours (one of my less creative moments, as we were all in band). That they were such phobics (our mutual term for people who were “popular,” a group of humans we Did Not Like). I think on some deep, inner level, I was imploring that she pick me instead. Or tell me she cared about me as much as she cared for them. I didn’t know how to ask it of her. I was saying it wrong, but that’s what 14-year old Leonie meant to say.

She said she didn’t understand what I was talking about. I think that’s literally what she said, too. Just straight up—I don’t get it. I didn’t believe her for a second. I might be wrong. She might genuinely not have understood. But I felt in that moment that she was choosing to play dumb to avoid conflict rather than validate my feelings. I think that was the moment I started to let go of her.

The next three years would be some of my most painful, and some of the ones in which she was either most in denial, or that she actually enjoyed, and I begrudge her for it if it’s the latter. She let me suffer. Never once offered consolation. Why not? Oh well, I was always with some boy or another. As if boys are what I asked for. As if theirs is the attention I wanted.

And in those three years, evidence that I had let go was apparent. I quit band one year. I claim it was “to study for the SAT”. It might have just been that she was getting on my nerves, like she did on those weeks when we were little kids and we saw each other for 5 days in a row because my mom had to work late some weeks.

Perhaps she had not let go at that point, I do not know. For two school projects, she asked me to be her partner. I agreed both times, feeling both times as though I did a lot of the work, though perhaps secretly pleased she would still think to ask me to work with her. I branched out. I joined the newspaper staff. I joined a dance team.

I think the abandonment culminated on the night of prom. My boyfriend and I were supposed to take Divya home from prom that night. Her white-girl friends were having a co-ed sleepover afterwards, and her mother did not approve. It strikes me now to wonder, why was she hanging out with friends who would do things that she couldn’t take part in? Perhaps the thought is irrelevant.

Anyway, we got to prom. My boyfriend at the time promptly decided to make a stink because I was having fun dancing and he wasn’t. I tried entertaining him on his phone, but he wasn’t really having it. Finally, I told him to just take me home. I didn’t speak the entire ride home. For the short time that I had been in attendance, I had quite enjoyed being, as another friend put it, “one of the best-looking girls at prom”. He was very anxious about how annoyed I was. He kept asking me what was wrong and trying to coax me into talking. It wasn’t until we had nearly reached his house—near Divya’s neighborhood, that I suddenly realized we had forgotten Divya.

My mom chewed me out really hard because of that. If I’m being honest, it wasn’t really the chewing out that surprised me (my mother’s favorite pastime is reminding me that I’m a little shit). It was that I had forgotten Divya for that long. Prom was nearly an hour away from our homes, and it took me nearly that long to remember she wasn’t there. That too, when she needed me.

She wasn’t upset, surprisingly. She had found another ride home. But it felt as though, whether or not I had meant to, I had ended our friendship.

Again, I don’t know if she had let go of me. In truth, she might not have. Years later, when I unfriended her on Facebook, she texted me. She said “did you unfriend me?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Sad.”

Even now, I do not know if she has let go of me. The one time we actually saw each other intentionally after leaving college (we both went to the University of Florida), she was the one who reached out. I’ve let the whole thing lapse. Perhaps it’s because I know our parents are friends, and will either always be friends or will continue pretending to be until they die. She is never truly gone from my life as long as our parents are friends. Our mothers always know what’s going on with both of us. Why should I bother, then? It’s not like I’m ever really lost. There are days when I crave being lost, I crave disappearing. I wish my past would stay in the past.

My sweetheart knows that I am capable of abandoning them, but they don’t know why. I hesitate with telling them the reason. They remind me of Divya. They’re athletic in the same way as she was. They argue in the same way. Even the way they so ambiguously request information reminds me of Divya. It would certainly explain my protectiveness of them, and the jealousy.

I struggle with separating the two of them in my head, and perhaps that is why I have to name those distinctions now. Divya is someone I have a lot of history with and, realistically, I am probably too biased to be able to judge her fairly any more. Those choices we made, we made at a point when we were both young, uninformed and ignorant, but I struggle with forgiving myself. I blame the younger me for not being wiser, for not being able to express herself fully without other people’s permission. And it is hard not to blame Divya either, even though at some level, I know she was doing what she thought was right at the time.

My sweetheart is not her. We are older people, hopefully with slightly more sense in our heads, capable of disagreeing without destroying each other or our relationship. We do not require approval from each other to be with other people or to take part in things we like. We are not competing either. Their well-being does not come at my expense, and vice versa.

I will tell them how much I love them, instead of writing stories and blog posts about it and never expressing it in words. I will tell them how much I love spending time with them, how much I love their voice and their softness that they try to hide. I will tell them they are graceful like a cat and beautiful like the silhouettes of trees in the evening, like the smell of the sea. I will tell them everything, the way I should have told Divya. Love them the way I should have loved her. I will not leave my sweetheart until I have left everything on the table, every kiss, every embrace. I will caress their cheek until I memorize the shape of their face. I will not leave it unsaid and incomplete, the way I did to Divya all those years ago. If the Universe is willing, I will not keep to myself a single thing I mean to give them, not hold back even one touch, not waste even one second.

Remembering Antonio

hood rats

Hood rats of Holyoke

Forgive me, Jerica.

“That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. Death always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.” -Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

I have been meaning to write this for some time, though at first, I did not know what to say. Or perhaps more accurately, I did not know how to write about it. What prepares anyone for the finality of death?

Antonio Nieves Martinez was my professor. It is true that I did not know him that well. I did not talk to him as I should have, I did not spend enough time with him.

We met in my first year of graduate school, in 2014. He was a new professor in my program, and I was a new master’s student taking the hard blows of imposter syndrome for truly the first time. And I’m sure he had felt the same way years ago, yet there he was, graceful, charming. I don’t know how to say this. Antonio was not perfect. He had moments when all transparency went out the window, when I could tell he was only going through the motions, and wasn’t fully present or engaged. But there were other things he did so beautifully.

On July 13 of this year, I was nearing the end of the eighth day of my new job at Hampshire College. A friend of mine, a doc student interning in Alaska at the time, called me over Facebook messager out of the blue. She hadn’t contacted me in a while, and we were going to move in together in about a month, so I wondered if she had had some problem signing for the apartment. I wish that had been the problem. She told me instead that Antonio had committed suicide.

I’m not sure I fully understood in that moment, what she had said. I was living with another friend, and I knew I would have to tell her as well, when I got home that day. She and I were in the same cohort, and we both took Antonio’s class at the same time. In fact, at that moment, I was dimly aware that I really needed to tell all of my cohort and the one after mine, and anyone else who knew him, what had happened. Looking back now, perhaps it was not my place to have done that. But I also knew that the faculty of my program and the administrators of the College of Education would keep it quiet, and that felt wrong. Because personally, I did not care how he had died. He deserved to be remembered.

More than that, he deserved to be loved. The friend I was staying with went to New York that weekend after I told her. We were supposed to meet up with members of my cohort the Friday after that, to celebrate Antonio’s life.

I had the apartment to myself the next day. I drove to my favorite ice cream place, ordered a giant tub of blue ice cream, came home, ate it, and cried. I cried for a long time. I don’t remember when I stopped. I just remember thinking he must have been in so much pain near the end of his life, and I couldn’t bear to think of him feeling that way. Not when he had had such a colorful life, not when he probably knew so much more about living than I did. Of course I know now that he always assigns the Duncan-Andrade piece, the ones about roses that grow in concrete, because he was one himself.

I did my crying in co-counseling. And alone in my car on the way to work. I’d put on all the Spanish music I could find and it would remind me of him. And I’d cry. This man probably knew so many things that I don’t, and I never bothered to ask. I know because I’m going through life now wishing I could ask him.

After I graduated from my program in 2016, I spent a year in my hometown, Tampa. Intermittently, I would think of Antonio. I’d think maybe I should email him, and tell him what I’m up to. In May of 2017, I knew I had received the job at Hampshire, and I knew I would be moving back to New England. I didn’t know then, but Antonio and his family were moving back to Oakland. I thought I’d tell him I got this new job, eventually, perhaps once I moved back and settled in. I’d reach out to him, to the other professors, see how they were doing.

I will never tell him now. There was a gathering for him at UMass. I did not go. I could not talk to anyone besides my co-counselors about him. I remembered him by wandering around Western Massachusetts alone. I swam alone. Explored remote towns alone. Stood on the edge of large lakes alone. There was a gathering for him in Holyoke. I didn’t go to that either. His daughter will never have those important conversations with her father, like the one where she calls him at 3:00 a.m. to tell him her car has gotten towed. Again. Or the one where she tells him she finally got a job, so would he please help her move her stuff 1,000 miles away. He is never going to have those conversations with her.

My cohort gathered to remember him. However, they wouldn’t confess to past mistakes they have made. For their dishonesty, I destroyed the cohort. I scattered them to the winds. I did not go to meet them. How could they be such cowards when Antonio was dead?

Finally, my friend and I moved to Holyoke, where Antonio used to live while he was in Western Massachusetts. I know now why he chose to live here with his family. It’s a beautiful town, far too small for how much life it contains. On walks in the streets, I meet people who say “¿’ta bien?”. Little black and brown children run around barefoot in the summer. On my street, there’s an old Boricua who goes to Stop and Shop in an electric wheelchair and blares loud bachata music from two speakers that he rigged himself. I once had a little old brown woman follow me around for 10 minutes because she thought I was someone else. I didn’t really mind.

This was your city,
child of immigrants.
In your memory, in your name,
I will do everything.

We had our own remembering party, my roommate and I. We invited some of the Latinx folks we knew from our program, a small group of 5 people. It was good. We brought things that remind us of him. There was a lot of drinking involved. And bachata. I think Antonio would be proud.

I’ve left the Hampshire job. I loved the position, but my boss sucked. I remember all the ways that Antonio tried to help make my life easier, when it felt like nothing was going right. Coincidentally, a friend of mine who works at a school in Holyoke recommended me for an open position there. I now teach ninth graders. Antonio used to teach in high school, once upon a time.

I wish you were here. I’m bewildered and inspired by these young people every day. Most days, it’s really, really fucking hard. You would have known exactly what to do. I miss your guidance, and I miss you very much.

Antonio had these moments when he could be unfathomably sweet. I remember, on our first day of class with him, he asked us if we would mind if he took a selfie with us. He said that he would like to send it to his mother. He said his mother is a Chicana immigrant who doesn’t fully understand what his job entails. He wanted to send her a picture so she could understand. We agreed to let him take the photo. Who does that? Who remembers their mom like that? Even I don’t, family girl as I am.

I remember he was there on the day I graduated. I remember he asked what I was doing next, and I told him I was going to Tampa to continue prospecting for jobs. He told me congratulations, and I think he hugged me. I hope he did. Antonio deserved a hug.

On Gross Parasites of Masculinity

muddy grass

Muddy grass, bank of the Connecticut River. PC: me

I wonder if perhaps I spoke too soon in my last post. In the height of eclipse season, I did indeed experience the possibility of a bad job, and just how awful that might have been. By some miracle, that conflict is getting better (personally, I think it’s because Mercury was retrograde until this past Tuesday).

I digress. There is a green, spongy algae that blooms along sidewalks where standing water is not properly drained. It is an attractive, eukaryotic organism, sometimes appearing in variations of blue or yellow, and while algae are often depicted in mainstream media as indicators of death and decay, they are actually a sign of quite the opposite–of excessive fertility. Algae can cause many pond and water organisms to die because as algae deteriorates, it causes oxygen levels in the water to rise, making it a toxic environment to live in.

Why is this the topic I start with today? To be honest, I have no idea. Maybe you can draw the connections, instead of me.

My white boy has got to go. He has crossed too many lines, placed one too many straws on my back. In the course of knowing him, I have discovered he is the kind of person who surrounds himself with women who will cater to his needs. He doesn’t realize it because, as these women have only ever catered to his needs, he has never met a person who has told him to his face that he is a gross parasite of masculinity. Furthermore, he broke up with me and refuses to stop communicating. Granted, I haven’t yet either, but I didn’t want to break up. He did. I find this to be a suspicious way for a person to behave.

He has told me in no uncertain terms, without any thought to how it might make me feel when I am so attracted to him, that he is pining for another woman, one who is already with another man, and who is planning to move to Seattle for said man. My white boy wants to move to Seattle, too. Yes, he is that stupid. Did I mention, he has been pining for this woman for 5 years? Yes, he told me that as well. In fact, there was a period in the beginning when he wasn’t pining for her. In that period, he was pining for another woman, then this current woman got together with a man, and then my white boy “realized” he had missed out on her. Do I sense a pattern? Might my white boy realize, somewhere down the line, that he missed out on me the second I am with some other worthier, stronger, wiser person? My intuition tells me yes, and my intuition predicted that Trump would win the presidency in July of 2016 (there were at least 3 eyewitnesses to this testimony).

I suppose he thinks this is a grand, romantic gesture, moving from Florida to Seattle for her. I have dated a great many morons who think the same way. I even had one try to do that to me when I was starting graduate school in Massachusetts. Sadly, perhaps that is why I fell for my white boy, because when I am attracted to straight men, I have a bad habit of dating morons. I’m sure it doesn’t even occur to him that his white girl never asked him to do that for her, that she isn’t even thinking about whether or not he likes her, and just because he is present in her life, that doesn’t mean she will date him or even think of him in a romantic way even if her relationship does end. (Let me not get into how boringly monogamous and linear and heteronormative this behavior is either). Gross. Parasite. Masculinity.

This, this is what I fell in love with several months ago. What I gave my heart to and bled out for, what I made myself vulnerable for. These were the kinds of sad, pathetic people available to me in Tampa.

I will not attempt to convey the kind of shame I feel. I suspect you already know. Too familiar to me are the flaws of the human heart. I recall from high school a similar sort of shame, the kind I felt from having to hide from my mother, who conditioned me to think my romantic feelings were wrong, my seemingly endless propensity for attraction to human beings. I would have gladly forfeit my ability to feel romantic feelings at that age. Sometimes now, the idea still appeals to me.

I think sometimes, I moved back up North just to realize these things. Not that I’m a sad person for having fallen for this dude. But that I deserve better. I surround myself with people who I trust to tell me the truth. It took all of them to get me to this point, where I am capable of overcoming loneliness, capable of letting go when it is necessary. Because I trust them to tell the truth, I believe them when they tell me I am brilliant, kind, and good. If they leave me, I know it’ll be for a damn good reason, not to chase some stupid romantic notions all across the country. Some people go their whole lives without knowing stability like this.

 

The Politics of Relationships

bogolis

Storks grazing in suburbs. I want to be a stork. Or perhaps I just don’t like my life right now.

CW: not for little kids

This is going to be some weird shit. I’m fucking a white boy, and you know shit is always weird when I’m fucking a white boy.

Probably not surprisingly, lately, I have been contemplating this question. Should I be with a person whom it makes sense to be with politically, or should I date a person who agrees with my politics? Ten times out of nine (Beyonce Carter Knowles, 2016), these two things do not occur simultaneously in the same person.

I’ll explain what I mean by that. I’m a woman of color, right? I try to praxis in a way that centers marginalized folks. However, I’m also educated and upper-middle class. If I was with a person who politically makes sense for me, I’d probably choose a man of color, probably also someone educated and raised upper-middle class, if we’re going with a traditional partnership which my family would find acceptable. If I’m thinking of personal satisfaction in my romantic and sexual partnerships, I could also see myself with an educated woman, most likely of color as well, though class background may vary (in my experience, I seem to get along with women of color across various class backgrounds).

In a strictly political sense, these categories of people make sense for me to partner with. In practice, partnering with people like this is a whole. Other. Experience. I firmly believe that our first experiences with people of a certain identity sort of “stick” in our brains. They create patterns that we fall into again and again, if we are observant enough to notice. The first men of color I ever dated were very abusive people. There was much behavior-monitoring and slut-shaming in those relationships. Since then, I’m not sure I have rationally been able to trust men of color. The ones I am attracted to seem like surprisingly sub-par people, and I suspect these attractions originate from those early abusive relationships, where my brain now has connections between men of color and abuse. Because that is a familiar dynamic, one which I even romanticized, my brain is wired to be romantically attracted to abusive men of color. This is probably a pattern I need to dismantle if I ever hope to be with a man of color.

With women, while the dynamics are certainly less problematic, they seem vastly more nebulous. There were three women in my life that I ever felt attracted to romantically. For the first, I was so puzzled by my feelings that I never told her. She was a kindly mentor sort of person who I greatly admired in high school. She promptly went off to Harvard, never to be heard from again. The second was quite friendly, though she had a boyfriend and I never told her as well. The third is now a good platonic friend of mine, for whom I do not feel romantic attraction any more. I am not certain what kinds of patterns this sets me up for, or if indeed, a pattern is even in place for women I am attracted to.

This brings us to the second part of the question: instead of a person who seems like my political counterpart, what about people who agree with my politics? Let’s examine that, shall we? First off, very few people seem to truly “agree” with how I see the world. The ones who really do are usually my good platonic friends. I keep those relationships platonic because these people are few and far between, and the relationships are more important to me than some fleeting romantic or sexual experience.

Thus, the options I am left with are varying levels of political compatibility with another person. Even there, the data is somewhat ambiguous, as I have not devised an actual method for measuring how closely my politics align with my romantic partners’. For some problematic reason (and I think this says a lot about how we are conditioned to feel about race in America, as well as how men of different races are conditioned to present themselves as masculine people), the partners I choose are more closely aligned with me around gender politics than around racial politics. This, too, could be inaccurate because I measure the alignment, at least initially, based on what men say, and not always what they do. (The latter usually presents itself later in a relationship, and I find myself disappointed more often than not). Perhaps not surprisingly (again), this means a lot of white men. I speak entirely from experience when I say, the white men I have dated are less defensive around topics of gender. Frequently, they will agree with me about the circumstances of women. Men of color, at least the ones I have been with, are surprisingly resistant to talking about gender. I don’t think this means that men of color cannot be trusted to talk about gender, but it certainly says a lot about intersections of race and gender. I think men of color are usually so targeted with racism that to have to admit they actually have a kind of power in gender structures is actually threatening. After all, it must be confusing to be both targeted and have power. Theorists like Kimberle Crenshaw, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins do a much better job than I do talking about why this occurs. There are a great number of social and political factors that make men of color defensive. I don’t have much to say on the subject besides, it sucks that these systems take so long to dismantle. It really does.

Anyway, after being told in a rather roundabout fashion by said white boy who I’m fucking that he cares more about the white women in his life than he does about me, I promptly find myself running out of faith in romance once again. I feel I have been swindled again, as I always am, and I become progressively cynical, deadened, hopeless. Stubbornly unwilling. I suppose this wheel grinds rather slowly. Just as I gradually discover what I will not tolerate in a professional setting, and what I am willing to suffer for, it seems that my romantic life must follow the same path. Though, uh, I think in the professional sense, I am the more willing creature. I have discovered I would much rather be in a bad job than in a bad relationship. At least a bad job still pays. A bad relationship is just a lot of bad memories clogging the sacred inner world.

Wonder Woman: A Review

wonder womanDisclaimer: Contains spoilers.

So last week, Wonder Woman was released, and I watched it alone on Monday because my family is too annoying to take with me (which is material enough to fill another entire post). Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed at the discourse surrounding this movie, which seems to boil down to women squabbling over whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color (in my opinion, she is not. She is a racially ambiguous white woman. Racial ambiguity is something that should receive more attention among racial justice advocates. Sadly, I think they have moved in a rather nonsensical direction *cough*monoracism?*cough*, but again, that is for another post).

There are so many more controversial and important things going on in this movie than whether or not Gal Gadot is a woman of color.

I’m going to say my first critique of the movie is that it definitely has pacing problems. I’ve never seen anything else that Patty Jenkins has directed, so I feel like I’m kind of missing a point of comparison, but it’s definitely something she could work on. I found the most interesting parts of the movie to be the beginning, when Diana (Gadot) lives among the Amazonians, and the end, when Diana faces Ares (David Thewlis). But then, there’s this strange and heteronormative middle section in which Diana is sort of coerced to behave like a “normal” woman, and it feels like that part drags on and on. I just didn’t give enough fucks. The beginning and end were far more interesting.

I do love that the beginning contains abundant shots of the Amazonians fighting. They’re, like, badass fight scenes, too. These women train like pros. The one thing I’m a little disappointed by is how skinny most of them are. There is literally one black woman among these Amazonians who actually looks like a healthy human being. The rest, if they actually trained that hard while being that skinny, would probably have premature osteoporosis.

I’m a little disappointed that, with the exception of the ice cream scene, there isn’t a single shot of Diana eating actual food. Wouldn’t that have been a powerful scene to add about a movie about a woman superhero? Think about it, right? She’s a badass warrior. She can swim hundreds of miles. Is really good at hand-to-hand combat. Is a skilled archer. Could run for days. Wouldn’t a person burning that many calories also EAT A TON?? How the hell did the director forget such an obvious part of being a human being?? Realistically, this woman probably ate, like, 10,000 calories a day to keep up her energy! How the hell did they not put a food shot in this movie? (Consider other action movies in which men portray gods/demigods are portrayed, e.g.: Thor (2011)).

Then we’ve got…*sigh*…the middle portion of the movie *cue Leonie’s most judgmental eye roll*. So Diana meets (through some pretty violent interference) Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and agrees to go with him to his world. Not gonna lie, that scene where Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her the world doesn’t deserve her almost made me cry. In some ways, Diana reminds me a lot of myself. Her overprotective mother reminds me of my own; regardless of what she says, Diana will not believe her until she experiences life on her own terms.

But then we run into this weird, heternormative narrative. I don’t get it. If Diana purportedly has only known the female form all her life, and went through puberty on the island with the Amazons, why in the whole fuck would she have sexual feelings for a man?? Would that not be similar to meeting an alien from outer space for the first time and then developing sexual feelings for it? What are the chances of a human being falling for a form with which they are not already intimately familiar? I’m just going to leave it at that.

I’m also a little miffed at this narrative around Maru (Elena Anaya). I feel like making her a villain was a little too ableist and easy. First of all, if she was smart enough to be messing around with chemicals of that caliber in the 1940’s, she was probably a highly educated woman, which was a huge accomplishment for a woman living in the 1940s. Second, it just seemed a little lazy to make her a visibly disabled person. Like, I am pretty sure anybody who worked as a scientist at the time sustained injuries from their craft. It was just a fact of working in that field at the time. For example, Marie Curie sustained some kind of cancer or radiation sickness from her work with radioactive material. Furthermore, what was referred to as “madness” or “hysteria” at the time would today probably be called “depression” or “anxiety,” which are actually highly co-related with genius (can’t find a citation, but there are studies out there). So it seems to me that Dr. Maru is a very intelligent, strategic woman who is just doing a job that will keep her alive during the war (instead of trying to escape from Nazi forces, which was tantamount to treason and would probably get her killed). The “madness” bit seems to be a sad character oversight on the part of the writers.

Furthermore, one of my friends has pointed out (and I agree) that this movie had a decidedly Western exceptionalist sort of feel to it. The best example I can think of is the scene where The Chief and Diana are conversing at night around the fire. Throughout the movie, I felt that Gadot did a great job of portraying a character with very high emotional intelligence. Later in the movie, she feels deeply for a woman and child whom she comes across at the front. However, (and I feel this is more a weakness of the script than a weakness in Gadot’s acting) when The Chief explains that his people have basically undergone genocide at the hands of Trevor’s people, there is not nearly a visceral enough reaction for a character that believes so deeply in justice. Furthermore, why would Diana then sustain sexual feelings for Trevor, a descendant of colonizers? I feel like if the script was true to Diana’s character, that point would have been significantly elaborated upon. It was a good opportunity to start a dialogue around indigenous narratives, and of course, it was tossed to the wayside.

Ugh, I’m going to get shot one day for saying this, but I also thought it was a bit on the nose to cast an Israeli actress in this role and then center the plot entirely on World War II. Like, really DC? You needed the tables to turn so literally? It couldn’t just have been a plot about good and evil like all the other DC superheroes? I can’t.

What I do appreciate about this movie, and I’m not even gonna sugarcoat it y’all, is that the white guy dies. I think that was a wise decision because of the message it sends about real-life activism. I was talking to a friend (another woman of color) who recounted that seeing this in a movie reflects what white allies should be willing to put on the line in order for marginalized people’s lives to get better. The truth sucks, but there it is. Fighting for justice is just that–a fight. Sometimes with very physical violence. Sometimes people die in the violence. Considering the number of black, Asian, Native, and Latinx lives that have been taken needlessly and/or senselessly over the course of history, this is the asking price of being a white ally. Know what it takes. Furthermore, it’s a powerful moment of cinematic justice as well. Consider the hundreds of movies in which Black, Asian, Native, and Latinx people die in movies to further plot points. The cinematic deaths of people of color has happened across so many genres–drama, action, horror, comedy even. I’m impressed to see a white death in a major action film–and not just that of a minor character, but the male lead.

I think by far my favorite scene in the whole film is when Diana refuses to listen to Trevor and crosses the battlefield to the village. I swear, I cried. I felt like this scene could be interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewer. I think the danger is if we consider Diana to be representative of white women. If that is how we interpret her character, that sets a dangerous precedent of saviorism that white women are all too eager to follow. In addition, it was also a rather impulsive thing that Diana did, and white women already do enough impulsive things which frequently endanger the lives of people of color. White women should not be encouraged to be reckless. If we interpret Diana as racially ambiguous, however, this entire narrative changes. It becomes this beautiful act of feminine power. It takes a woman (of color) to empathize with the position of women and children in a war (Which country of the global majority has not experienced prolonged wars?), and to furthermore give so few fucks about what men want her to do that she walks into crossfire alone to solve a problem that hundreds of men couldn’t solve. I think that is the kind of world we could look forward to if more women were in positions of power and didn’t keep getting assassinated, undermined, or overthrown. (No, I am not talking about Hillary Clinton. Fuck off, ye meagre Beckies).

In short, Wonder Woman was a fascinating movie. I think, as always, the premise far exceeds the execution. I do think that for her first major role in a film, Gal Gadot did a spectacular job of portraying a stranger to the world, who is both more naive and more knowledgeable than anyone can reasonably guess. I relate to her so much, as a person who was raised around immigrants my whole life and had no idea what The Real America was actually like until I left home. I think that is the mark of a good actress, being able to make familiar the unfamiliar.