Travel Daydreams

This might seem a bit ridiculous, since I'm about to leave for a week for Canada, but I'm already starting to think ahead to future summers and wonder where we'll head next (as long as this goes well). During that window of time when I had a full-time job and was childless I was able to go to some great places (Italy, Hawaii, the Caribbean, NYC, etc...) and it finally seems like it's time to get back out there. Here are some places I have my eyes on for possibilities for the next few years:

New York City- I have mixed feelings about returning places when traveling, but I really want to take Sawyer to do the sleepover program at the Natural History Museum. I might combine this with maybe a few more stops in New England (probably Boston and then maybe somewhere on the coast in Maine), as opposed to spending more than two or three days in the city. As long as nothing catastrophic happens, I plan on this one for 2020. 

Somewhere tropical- I love the idea of an all-inclusive family-friendly resort on maybe Turks and Caicos or Jamaica. My husband's work demands doesn't necessarily open him up to travel plans, so I think I'd maybe take my mom with us so that I could have some time to lay on a beach alone with a book for a few hours. I'm really tempted to do this next summer, but we'll see what the budget looks like (I think my plan is  a big trip every other year). 

Seattle/PNW- Another return, but my first trip was for a work trip so I don't fully count it. 

London/Germany/Switzerland- A trip like this is probably the furthest one out, since European travel with a kid is just... a lot. A friend and I have been tossing around the idea of going together (without Sawyer), so that's a possibility too. 

Yellowstone- This one I could see being a real possibility for early next summer, although I'm still sort of stuck on the tropical thing... Also a possibility, and in the same neck-of-the-woods is Glacier National Park.

What about you? What's high on your travel wish list? 

So You Want to Talk About Race

I was first introduced to the term "white privilege" several years from a friend/colleague via text, in a conversation that started out with him criticizing the dress I had on, saying it was "WASPy." I liked my dress and didn't really see it as "WASPy" and told him so- this led to a conversation where he decided to talk extensively about my privilege. I was a bit befuddled and was admittedly defensive, since I felt that all of my struggles growing up without much money, a father who killed himself, moments of emotional struggle, and the burden of college costs on my own shoulders were being completely invalidated. He kept repeating that my whiteness was my great fortune and that everything I had was because of it. It was awkward, unexpected, and, frankly I felt hurt since all I had done was wear a dress I liked (for reasons of privacy I will say that he is not African American, nor is he white). 

Here's the thing: he was right on lots of levels. I didn't understand that at the time, since the term "white privilege" and the slogan "Black Lives Matter" hadn't come to forefront yet and I wasn't exactly familiar with looking at race in this way. Sure, I knew racism definitely still existed and I was morally and socially opposed to (and horrified by) it's presence in the twenty-first century. But I hadn't done much to learn more, so I was definitely not ready to listen to him in the way that I am now. I think about this interaction often, and my feelings about it have evolved since. I've moved from hurt to basic agreement (although I still think the conversation didn't need to originate from how I dressed and would have better been done in person). I'm not really sure what motivated the person to start this sort of interaction, but at the end of the day he was correct: while there have been many obstacles in my life I am still white and have benefitted from our country's inherent racism. It's like people who are born tall: they can reach the things on the top shelf while others cannot. It's not my fault, necessarily, but there are things I can do to make a difference, just like tall person needs to help the shorter people get things out of the cabinet. 

Here's where So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo comes in, a text I had heard about a few months ago and just finished today. Oluo has basically written a primer for white people who want to learn to be better. For people who want to learn how to converse about race, make a difference in a society that is set up to benefit white people, and reduce their chances of committing microagressions, instances of cultural appropriation, and even more harm. She is honest, firm, and isn't afraid of making her white readers uncomfortable. I read the entire book with pen in hand and underlined passage after passage- here are a few that really hit home:

"Disadvantaged white people are not erased by discussions of disadvantages facing people of color, just as brain cancer is not erased by talking about breast cancer. They are two different issues with two different treatments, and they require two different conversations" (18). (This is what me from a few years ago who was just learning about white privilege needed to hear). 

"Often, being a person of color in a white-dominated society is like being in an abusive relationship with the world" (19). 

"It's the system, and our complacency in that system, that gives racism its power, not individual intent" (28). (This is something I need to work on).

"And if you are white, and you don't want to feel any of that pain by having these conversations, then you are asking people of color to continue to bear the entire burden of racism alone" (51). 

"When we are willing to check our privilege, we are not only identifying areas where we are perpetuating oppression in order to stop personally perpetuating that oppression, but we are also identifying areas where we have the power and access to change the system as a whole" (65). 

"Being privileged doesn't mean that you are always wrong and people without privilege are always right- it means that there is a good chance you are missing a few very important pieces of that puzzle" (66). 

"Our police force was not created to serve black Americans; it was created to police black Americans and serve white Americans" (91).

"Affirmative action is a crucial tool if we want to mitigate some of the effect of systematic racism and misogyny in our society" (114).

"When our kids spend eight hours a day in a system that is looking for reasons to punish them, remove them, criminalize them- our kids do not get to be kids" (133).

"The problem with appropriation is primarily linked to the power imbalance between the culture doing the appropriation and the culture being appropriated. The power imbalance allows the culture being appropriated to be distorted and redefined by the dominant culture and siphons any material or financial benefit of that piece of culture away to the dominant culture, while marginalized cultures are still persecuted for living in that culture" (147).

"Microagressions are small daily insults and indignities perpetrated against marginalized or oppressed people... that cumulative effect of these constant reminders that you are "less than" does real psychological damage..." (169).

"You are not doing any favors, you are doing what is right... Your efforts to dismantle White Supremacy are expected of decent people who believe in justice. You are not owed gratitude or friendship from people of color for your efforts. We are not thanked for cleaning our own houses" (210)

Oluo offers suggestions at the end of her book, that encourage acting, not just thinking and talking, since action is what will really make a difference. Some things that I plan on doing:

- continue to donate money to groups like the ACLU, SPLC, and Planned Parenthood
- vote diversely and purposefully (not just being satisfied with party lines, but seeing who is running within the party) 
- get involved in schools (clearly I am already involved, but I need to do better there- I am in a position to let students talk and grow)
- speak up when safe (for me this means when my students are "just joking," when I reads comments of those I know on social media that are offensive, or even if I see something at, say, the store)
- not be afraid to ask friends questions and accept their answers (I am fortunate enough to have many amazing friends from a variety of backgrounds)

This book was a good reminder, refresher, and eye-opener in many ways. Oluo provided plenty of personal anecdotes that illustrated her points well and reminded me that I will never truly get it. I can be open to conversation, I can do what I can as a white woman to bring about change and fairness, I can try to imagine what it's like using my personal experiences as a woman, but I will never understand what it means to be black in America. And while she didn't explicitly address this topic, this also reinforced the idea that I need to be mindful of how I raise my son when it comes to race and social differences. 

I will conclude this by saying that I am actually really thankful for my friend who took issue with my dress. It was sort of a turning point that started an important self-reflection process. I am not perfect, and I am sure I've done things or said things or thought things that I haven't even realized are wrong, but I want to be better. Books like this help me to be more mindful of who I want to be and what I want this country to be like. Oluo also reminded me that it's okay to screw up when trying to discuss race- it's when you quit talking and listening that the problem really begins. 

This book is important. Read it.  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts- Tardy Edition

[I died when I saw this at a stoplight]

A few days late, but that's what holiday week's are for, right? Link up in the comments if you want to play!

1. We leave for Canada soon, so I'm trying to get everything done and ready so that the day we head out I'm not in a tizzy. I have become much more relaxed about traveling now that I'm older- if we remember our medication/contacts and there are stores where we are going then it's all going to be okay. My biggest concerns are navigating the airport with all of our shit and then my credit cards cooperating (I swear, this always happens; I notify them I'm leaving the area and then the first.... or tenth... time I go to use one it's declined and I have to call).

2. I am obsessed with the new Death Cab for Cutie song, "Goldrush." I think 1/2 of the 1,000,000+ listens on Spotify are from me.

3. I am also loving the new Instagram "caught up" feature aka "stop screwing around and get productive."

4. We've had friends over a few times and a small family gathering and this has been excellent motivation to keep my house clean. Is that the secret? Just have guests over a few times a month to ensure that your house is in tiptop shape? I really enjoy hosting, so maybe that really is the way to go...

5. CAN WE NOT FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET THOSE POOR KIDS OUT OF THE CAVE ALREADY? Ugh. The whole thing is just so terrible. First of all, it's terrible because it's just that- simply terrible. I also find it particularly terrible because I am very claustrophobic, so the very thought of being stuck in a space like that is absolutely terrifying. JUST GET THEM OUT. 

6. Yesterday after I took Sawyer to preschool I drove to Crystal Cove in Newport and spent the day on the beach reading Chemistry by Weike Wang. A whole book in one sitting! What kind of summertime magic is that? I also squeezed in a thirty minute walk on the beach, which was basically icing on the cake. I think I'll try to make this happen once more before I go back to work (for those of you who think I'm horrible for not taking my kid, I did get friend on the back of my legs, which is making dressing and sitting very painful, so the universe did give me a slap on the wrist, I suppose).

7. Speaking of reading, I'm reading So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, which I am declaring now to be a primer for white people, despite the fact I'm only half way through. I'm also reading The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, since I loved The Sympathizer

8. I'm off for a lunch date with my husband. This is the third time in less than a month that we've gone out without Sawyer- crazy!  In a few weeks we are going to Vegas as a family and  staying together with my in-laws one night, and then Scott and I are going to stay on the strip alone for another. This is clearly the summer of us finally hanging out by ourselves again.

June Reviews

I started the summer off right with eight books read. Truth be told, part of it was some much needed escapism after May being so rough, part of it was taking Sawyer to school and having time to myself, and part of it was simply not having to grade papers anymore. Here's a super quick rundown:

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett 
322 pages
This was a reread, since it was last month's book club selection, but basically, Patchett chronicles the lives of two families that are enmeshed together, looking at various aspects of familial relationships. The novel teases about a great tragedy throughout and we finally see it unfold towards the end. 

Verdict: This is not my favorite Patchett book, but I still enjoyed it. I identified with the idea of a family tragedy that was sort of tiptoed around for years, but also with how the Franny character struggles to find her voice at times and ends up not taking enough of a stand. I think it's easy to attack her character, since she is weak and directionless, but I definitely could relate with her at certain points.

Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor 
281 pages
I wrote about this memoir here.

Calypso by David Sedaris
259 pages
In this collection of essays Sedaris mainly focuses on life at his beach house (The Sea Section- ha!) and how it connects the members of his family, who come to stay often. He also writes from the vantage point of middle-age, offering observations from this stage in life. One of my favorite accounts was when he let a woman he met at a book signing who had been a doctor in Mexico cut out a fatty tumor from his abdomen, since he had wanted to keep it to feed to a turtle (his surgeon said he couldn't let him keep it). I also appreciated a few that had to do with his Fitbit, since we crazy step-counters must stick together.

Verdict: I read this book while going through a tough day or two, so it ended up being the perfect source of comic relief. At one point I thought I might need to order every text he's ever written, but I refrained (for now). I've read his essays before, and have even taught a few, but I've never actually read one of his actual books. It was such a treat. 

Pops by Michael Chabon
127 pages
This was another collection of essays, although it focused on snapshots of fatherhood instead. Chabon built the book around an article he had published for GQ about accompanying his teenage son to Paris Fashion Week, which is definitely one of the strongest pieces in the text. He writes about what it means to parent in a way that fosters independence but also provides guidance. He makes mistakes along the way, but you can tell that he truly loves his family and takes parenting seriously. 

Verdict: I really enjoyed this slender volume, the essays witty and the stories about his family poignant. I saw him a few days after I read this and after hearing him speak I wanted to rush home and read everything else he's written that I haven't gotten around to yet (we have all of his books between my husband and I, but... time).

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
325 pages
This was also a reread, since I was able to attend an event that I won through Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club. I feel like I've written about that and this book in excess, so we'll move on!

Florida by Lauren Groff
275 pages   
I'm a big fan of Groff, so when I heard she had a collection of short stories coming out I preordered it immediately. The stories in this volume are all set or connected to Florida, but not the bright, beachy, Walt Disney World Florida most of us envision. These stories are filled with darker shadows about human relationships, emotions, and trials.

Verdict: I think I prefer her novels, but this was still a really solid group of stories that haunted me after I finished them. These were more about the writing than anything for me, as she's able to combine a subtle wit with tougher emotions, like melancholy and defeat. Her descriptions of the setting are just as powerful as the way she quickly and expertly develops her characters as well. 

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
324 pages
It seems necessary to preface this with the fact that I am not a YA reader and maybe read one a year, at most. Therefore, I am not the target demographic or reader, although I did try to keep an open mind since I adore Pessl. 

This novel is about a group of friends, including Beatrice, who are reunited after the they graduate. The elephant in the room is the unresolved death of Bea's boyfriend, Jim, which she thinks her friends know more about than they've said. After a night of partying they find themselves in an accident and then thrown into this sort of weird purgatory that they need to get themselves out of. They relive the same day over and over again and are supposed to vote for one of the group to make it out alive. Trials and tribulations ensue.

Verdict: This was definitely my least favorite book the month. I tend to find the dialogue in YA books fairly unrealistic, which I have at least some authority on, since I work with teenagers and hear them ALL DAY for 10 months a year. That aside, I just don't like fantasy stories and found the ultimate end predictable.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
454 pages
This lengthy novel focuses around Greer, a bright young woman who ends up dipping her toes into feminism after some unwanting groping at a frat party (the guys ended up being the Harvey Weinstein of their campus). Soon after, Greer attends a talk by the famous feminist and journalist Faith Frank, where she's inspired and soon becomes a bit obsessed with the lady. Meanwhile, Greer must maintain a long-distance relationship, develop friendships, and come to terms with the failures of her parents. As the book unfolds, Greer ends up working with Frank and ends up questioning her role in the world as as a woman and how she will leave her mark while still handling her personal life.

Verdict: There were many things I appreciated about this book, and a few I did not. First of all, I liked that Wolitzer incorporated many types of feminists in the novel and subsequently offered perspective from each. Greer was the young idealist who wanted to be both feminine and powerful, her friend Zee navigated what it meant in terms of sexuality, Frank Faith was the old-school women's-lib leader who also had to balance that with business, and Greer's boyfriend Cory represented the male attempt at feminism. The message was strong, and the side plots helped move the story along, for the most part. I did think the book was too long, though, and the length at times detracted away from the power of feminism. I also didn't necessarily care for the way the novel was set up- it felt disjointed at times (and I have no problem with nonlinear stories). It's definitely not a quick read, but I'm still glad I went for it. 

 2,367 pages

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday! Leave your link in the comments (and please link back!)

1. I have been a union member (CTA!) for twelve years and have a grandpa who was a teamster for decades- today's SCOTUS ruling is personally offensive and it's TIME TO RALLY.

2. I started David Sedaris' Calypso and I absolutely adore it. I've read other essays of his here and there, but this is the first actual collection I've owned and now I want them all.

3. I am also reading Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion and while I am enjoying it, I do think that she could have trim about 75 pages of fat to make a bit of a tighter novel.

4. I am excited for IOS 12 later this year to be released- it will have a suite that includes an app that tracks how you spend your phone time! I have been asking for this for years (and clearly they are specifically answering my actual needs because I am THAT important). There are third party ones, but they ask for way to much access to my phone to utilize them. 

5. I have been considering a new Instagram account for book-related matters only, but I'm afraid it will be too much work. Anyone do this? Thoughts? Do I have to log out and back on each time I change accounts?

6. I love that my mom reads so much more now that all of her kids are grown. She went from only reading Redbook when we were kids to reading 2-4 books a month! She tries to alternate between an author she knows and a new one, so I always use holidays and birthdays (like hers yesterday) to buy her new ones. And she reads them! It's so great. I would have never imagined this twenty years ago.

7. Lately I have been able to hang out with people who mean so much to me and I am so very, very thankful. Some of these occurrences have been simple, fun things, others much more serious and profound. I know good people that make my life that much better.