Archive for October, 2011

October BAND Discussion: Nonfiction Anthologies

Ash of the English Major’s Junk Food blog is hosting this month’s BAND (Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees) discussion. She asks, What are your favorite nonfiction anthologies?

Like Ash, I appreciate anthologies because they allow the reader to be enticed by a short nonfiction piece without committing to an entire tome. That’s valuable for people intimidated by nonfiction but I also enjoy it as a way to learn a bit about unfamiliar places or phenomena.

I don’t usually like the “Best American Essays”-type collections,  because I prefer anthologies focused on a theme. I’m not sure I’ve read enough anthologies to pinpoint my absolute favorite, so I’m going to write about the one that made me realize how great anthologies are, as well as a few I’m reading right now.

  1. Violence in Times of War and Peace, edited by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Phillippe Bourgois. Though there are a few fictional pieces, the majority of essays in this book are nonfiction excerpts or articles covering a global range and grouped into sections such as Communal Violence, Violence and Political Resistance, Everyday Violence, and Torture. The anthology served as the primary text for the anthropology of violence course I took while studying abroad. I remember reading ahead for the class, while my roommates watched bootleg DVDs. Though the subject matter is often stomach-turning, the theoretical frameworks offered by the authors and implied in the organization of the collection took me beyond a a simple condemnation of violence to a critical understanding of how it is produced and reproduced in society at different places and times.
  2. Rethinking Popular Culture and Media, edited by Elizabeth Marshall and Özlem Sensoy. This anthology gathers articles from Rethinking Schools magazine analyzing popular culture and media’s effects on students and schools. What I love about this book so far is that many of the authors are teachers and thus they offer examples of active ways they’ve responded to the changing relationships of media and corporations to youth—in their own uses of technology and in encouraging critical media literacy among students. My main complaint is that most of the articles don’t have notation on when they were originally published.
  3. Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. This guide for narrative nonfiction writing currently resides on my kitchen table, since I’ve been reading its short essays with breakfast for the last few days. It’s delightful to find a book full of suggestions from other people who get as much fulfillment from discovering and sharing human stories as I do.
  4. Spellbound: Women and Witchcraft in America, edited by Elizabeth Reis. When a feminist archaeologist professor of mine retired she told me to select a book from her shelf so she wouldn’t have to take them all home. I chose this one, and it’s sat on my own bookshelf ever since. I read the introduction last week as I worked on my Witchy Women post for Canonball. Writing that post made me realize how vast the topic of witches and culture is and reading Spellbound reminded me the importance of contextualizing subjects in time and space when writing nonfiction. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the articles in that anthology for the depth and specificity of their analyses.

Life on the Margins: Witchy Women

Halloween is coming! And I wrote a Canonball post that at the portrayal of women as witches in children’s books, particularly in Roald Dahl’s The Witches and Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona. Read it at the link below:

Life on the Margins: Witchy Women

Friday 5: Autumn leaves

I can’t believe another whole week passed already! This post is inspired by a graphic I saw on Facebook last week. It showed 5 corporate logos in black on one side and 5 leaves, also black, on the other, under the heading “How many can you identify?”

I like the sentiment of the graphic, though I have mixed feelings about knowing the labels for leaves. I feel the same about birds. Sometimes when watching birds fly or admiring the leaves on a tree I wonder what kind of bird or tree I’m viewing. Then I remember that I don’t need to know its scientific name to appreciate its beauty.

I’m not anti-science. I find photosynthesis and cellular respiration and other life processes fascinating, but simply recognizing the label for something (much like brand names) isn’t the same as understanding its value.

Anyway, all this to say that today’s post is a leafy photo series captured in Central Pennsylvania over the last week. Enjoy!

Autumn Leaves

Red Cross, PA

Autumn Leaves

Red Cross, PA

Autumn leaves

Lykens, PA

Autumn leaves

Red Cross, PA

Autumn leaves

Red Cross, PA

Extra, Extra

My posts have been sparse this month, in part because of moving and starting new jobs but also because I’ve been writing pieces for other outlets more regularly. Today I have two more links to share.

The first is a book review of the novel Strange as this Weather has Been, by Ann Pancake. It’s posted on the Daily Yonder, a great news site covering all things rural. Besides reading the review you should ABSOLUTELY READ THIS BOOK. It’s about a West Virginia community facing mountaintop-removal mining and it’s beautifully written.

The second post is an interview with an Occupy Wall Street activist on their experience of gender dynamics in Liberty Square. It’s posted on Canonball.

Friday 5: Kara’s Miscellany

  1. Driving toward Elizabethtown on Thursday I passed many farms. One stood out though, because in a fenced in area for animals, there stood, almost nonchalantly, a camel. I wanted to take a picture, but stopping would’ve made me late for my appointment to have my braces tightened. (Yes, I even take my camera with me to the orthodontist.)
  2. The rich-yet-muted reds, oranges, and yellows of fall have swept across the treetops of central Pennsylvania. Not all of these have turned, yet, so with the greens beneath it looks like a painter has been testing her palette.
  3. Lately I’ve been noticing different interpretations to old songs. Or just paying attention to lyrics I hadn’t ever noticed before. Such as this opening to the Spice Girls song, Who Do You Think You Are: “The race is on to get out of the bottom/the top is high so your roots are forgotten.” The rest of the song goes on to say things like, “Swing it, shake it, move it, make it/Who do you think you are?” but that first line is a surprisingly incisive statement about the structure of society and what it takes to achieve the “American dream.” The belief that you must “get out” of whatever middle-of-nowhere place you come from to prove yourself (in a big city) is something I’ve thought about a lot in recent years. Now that I’ve been back in the U.S. I’ve also been able to see how prevalent that message is in mass media.
  4. As a child I had a recurring nightmare in which I was alone in a car on the road but did not actually know how to drive. Since I began driving regularly this year I’ve had multiple dreams about hitting another car with mine. It puzzles me to realize I’ve had subconscious anxieties about automobiles for so long.
  5. I just moved to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. The city made international news this week by filing for bankruptcy. I’ve seen a few people on Facebook asking what this means. I don’t really know, but I expect to write about it more as I learn.

Different Meanings of Occupation

I’ve always had an interest in language and the adaptability of words, but I never felt the physical and emotional charges we attach to words until I lived in a conflict zone. Take the word “collaboration,” for instance. In the West Bank, collaborating refers to Palestinian working with the Israeli Army informing them of their neighbors’ activities or other actions with equally dangerous repercussions in the community. Being accused of being a collaborator carries heavy social consequences for any Palestinian and their relations.

Hence, when I left Palestine to teach digital storytelling in India, “collaborate” was not a word that rolled off my tongue often. When I started hearing it used in the classroom regarding groupwork or when discussing partnerships between educational organizations, I had to mentally process the difference. I still do. It’s not something I usually verbalize, but I’m not sure it will ever go away.

And then there’s the word “occupation.” Despite opposing the U.S. occupation of Iraq, I had little awareness of this word being anything other than a synonym for “job” before learning about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Even now I wonder if people in the U.S. get what I’m talking about when I refer to the occupation. It doesn’t have the same weight as the word “war”—that is unless you’ve experienced it, in which case the word will probably make you want to curl up in a corner if you think about its meaning while sitting in a hip café writing a blog post.

So I’ve been having a lot of mental processing as the word “occupation” has become a popular lingo referring to protests in Wall Street and elsewhere, in which participants literally take over a space that they do not legally control. It’s the same basic action as a military occupation, though of course the actors, type of force employed, purpose, etc. differ.

The striking language difference here is that by and large the people I talk to about these occupations are promoting and praising them. I’m accustomed to occupation as something to resist, not a form of resistance itself. So it’s in the valuation of the word in phrases like “Occupy Everywhere” that my embodied understanding of the term is destabilized. Today I saw a photo that speaks to this linguistic trip wire.

Solidarity with Palestinian political prisoners, 10/11/11. By Oren Ziv

Gendered Lens

Over the next month or two I’ll be writing a series for Canonball around the theme of gender in photography. The first one focuses on Dorothea Lange, one of my favorite photographers. I also share some of my own history with photography. You can read it today at Canonball:

Gendered Lens: On Role Models and Women Photographers

Working People’s Solidarity at Occupy Wall Street

As I wrote in my Friday 5 post two weeks ago, the most promising thing I heard about when I visited Occupy Wall Street was participants’ efforts to make connections between the frustration that brought people there and other struggles that people have been organizing around (e.g. labor issues, access to health care, environmental hazards) throughout the country but in NYC particularly. In an article on Common Dreams today, I detailed some of how the Labor Outreach and Support working group developed the relationships with unions that led to last week’s 20,000-person march. The story also includes voices from participants describing the value of the occupied space as a place to listen to one another and brainstorm the kind of world they want to live in.

Check it out at Common Dreams.

Friday 5: Ancient Civilizations

Although tourism is not my motivation for going to different countries, I have climbed an unusual number of pyramids and marveled at a long list of historic temples. This week I gathered some of the photos in one spot to share with you.

1. Undavalli Cave Temples, India. Four-story caves/Hindu temples, which have also been used as rest houses by Buddhist monks. Dated to CE 420-620.

Undavalli Cave Temple

Andhra Pradesh, India; September 2010

Undavalli Cave Temple

View from inside the temple

2. Petra, Jordan.A city with architecture cut into pink rock, established around 6th century BCE.

Petra, Jordan, May 2010

The monastery of Petra; May 2010

3. Teotihuacan, Mexico. Important city of Mesoamerica, established around 100 BCE but possibly in use till the 7th or 8th century CE.


The Basin of Mexico; May 2011

4. Tikal, Guatemala. A political, economic, and military stronghold of the pre-Columbian Mayans.

Tikal from above the canopy; November 2009

Tikal from above the canopy; November 2009


Why is today's architecture so boring and boxy?

5. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt. Need I say more? Well, yes, actually. While the pyramids have the wow-factor in their scale, I found the heiroglyphs and statues in the temples of Luxor in southern Egypt more enthralling.

Oh Egypt. February 2008

We Are the 99%, period. (Or why comparative suffering models piss me off)

The other day I stumbled upon a graphic at the Mother Jones tumblr site which shows a group of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators with the words, “In America you are the 99%” followed by a photo of emaciated, dark-skinned children and the text “But to the rest of the world you are still the 1%.” Below the photos, it reads, “When you win your battle please remember that the war is not over.” You can see the graphic here, but I don’t wish to portray it directly on my blog.

This kind of messaging really bothers me. While the sentiment of the final line mitigates it slightly, the graphic plays into the popular narrative of starvation and suffering in places Other than America. I’ve written before how crazy I find it that the primary way we understand 2/3 of the world is through the paradigm of “underdeveloped”—in other words, less than us. Or in slightly more generous terminology,  “developing”—as in working towards living the great lives we do. Images like the ones described above feed this paradigm. Most Americans may not be able to identify Zimbabwe on a map but they could probably guess that people are poor there and the AIDS rate is high—it’s in Africa, after all, and that’s the most basic image we have of the entire continent.

My frustration with this graphic goes beyond the lack of depth in popular understandings of the globe, though. The juxtaposition of the images and inverting of Occupy Wall Street’s language undermines the greater point that we are all connected. It’s true that extreme suffering exists across the planet, and it’s often much more visible in places outside the U.S. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling here, nor does knowing that children elsewhere are starving solve the hunger of people in our immediate communities.

Dwelling on how much worse people have it elsewhere allows people to ignore what people are experiencing around them. Or at best, to initiate short-term solutions, like charity drives, for needy people in distant lands. I’m not condemning charity, but we need more than that for systemic change to end poverty. Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99%” message has resonated across the country, spurring similar actions in hundreds of  cities. This is the widest recognition that we are all negatively affected by the economic system we live under that’s happened in my lifetime. It’s the kind of recognition we need to mobilize people to fight for a new economic system.

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