How it’s going.

A few weeks into my year of non straight white men reading and I find myself challenged and surprised in different ways than expected.  Which should have been expected, of course 🙂

While home for a few days in Illinois to visit family and friends, I perused my bookshelf for titles to fill the other half of the suitcase I intended to bring back to Minneapolis, and was dismayed to find that several shelves were almost entirely composed of works by SWM.  But I did bring back a few potential gems, some already read and many not.  These include:

I’ve also revised my lens for library searches, which resulted in the discovery of the literature section that contains anthologies of works from different groups of people of color, which should prove fruitful for unearthing works I wouldn’t otherwise be alerted to.  Between my personal library, the Hennepin county collection, and the recommendations of all you wonderful people, I do believe I will have more literary works to digest than I have time for.

So rather than insights coming from the books by NSWM that I’m discovering and reading, I am consistently astounded by my sudden awareness of the featured books in popular media.  Though I’m certain it has been so for much longer than I’ve been paying attention to it, the vast majority of books reviewed and featured in nearly every form of mainstream media, from newspapers to magazines (even those that are specifically about reviewing books!) are written by SWM. And of those that are not, the second largest representation is from straight white women.  I suppose I should include some sort of disclaimer that it is sometimes difficult to discern a writer’s race/ethnicity from their name, and nearly impossible to discern their sexual orientation.  However, I have found that much of the time if the writer identifies as LGBT it is specifically mentioned at some point in the review/feature, whereas if they are heterosexual it is overlooked and unmentioned entirely.

I am glad for the challenges to my perceptions that the first month of my year of NSWM reading has brought me, and want to sit with those challenges and insights for at least another month or so before adding on any other intentional mind expanding work (though such things happen every day unintentionally, at least I should hope so!).  However, I hope to continue expanding my worldview and anti-racism work, so if anyone has ideas of other challenges, please do share, whether they are fully-fledged or only half-formed.



Lightness – from Caleb

This was simultaneously posted to my blog at There, I also have a series of entries regarding my travels with my brother, complete with photos and musings. I thought this bit may have a little home here.


22 August 2010, Sunday late morning

For the last few days I have felt this peculiar lightness. Not weightlessness and not flightiness. I am not more urged or guided in one direction than usual, but I feel the more subtle tugs in each direction more finely. Not until just now did I realize what it was.

Yesterday I described in my personal journal my not unpleasant sense of aloneness. It is, at times, sharpened into feeling lonesome but has not yet manifested as loneliness. Feeling lonesome is, in a way, not unpleasant for me. Rather, it is an appreciation for those episodes or places that are enriched by the company of others. Eating my meals alone, I often sense that strange absence of another person with whom I might share that meal. Whereas loneliness is much more of a longing for that space to be filled, it is an attachment to a person or type that, in their absence, the present moment is degraded.

This lightness, though, has different qualities. It did not come together on the camping trips between Lincoln and Flagstaff or in the house I was staying in before the apartment. This ethereal sensation must have arisen Friday or thereabout despite my bicycle technical difficulties that occurred that day. What it is, I believe, is a sort of calm release of those responsibilities and concerns I have experienced for most of this year. Many of my obligations have been these long-term expectations and their slow conclusions; work applications, graduate school concerns, money issues, finding housing, arranging roommates, graduate assistantship paperwork and confusion, etc. Now, though, most of these issues are resolving or slipping out of mind. What I have now is immediacy and immediacy feels distinctly light.

Part of this sensation, I am sure, is an easily fostered sense of peace in my new quarters. I feel pruned and tidied. What I have is what I need and what I need is nearby. I can maintain a sense of quiet in my living room which makes a sense of quiet in my mind all the easier. (This notion of noise and tranquility play a part in my dislike of driving which is necessarily loud and my preference for biking which is, under most circumstances, rather serene—at least when it comes to the vehicle in question.) For most of the past week, I have been scrambling for those things a living space generally requires—light, cleaning supplies, certain tools, food, cookware, silverware, and specific items of furniture—and now that those items are more or less in place and the clutter is off the floor, I have this wholesome sensation of satisfaction.

That said, I look forward to my roommates arriving. The apartment remains rather sparse and I think their arrivals and expectations for the apartment will metamorphose the place beneficially. Also, I am excited to show off what I cannot help but feel is very much my handiwork. I could not have made the trip very easily without my brother, nor could I have moved in without Miss Julia J and Mr. Eric to assist in his absence. All the same, finding certain items on craigslist and arranging it just so feels especially personal, peculiarly reflective of me. When Miss Mari A. and Mr. Tim H. make their appearances, I hope it is a welcoming place for them not just to step inside, but to make their own as well.

Perhaps this lightness will fade with coming responsibilities. I may even begin working this coming week and I have scheduled events that require my attendance. The subsequent week I have classes and hope to have real work hours besides. Not to mention rent will be coming up again in no scant amount of time—rent I think my bank account can handle. Nevertheless, I cannot perceive those realities becoming painfully heavy. It may be that I have found a solid mental place, a psychic calm that has been rather fleeting up until now.

Perspective changing is possible

Upon reflection during the last few months I have realized that nearly all of my favorite authors are straight white men.  I cherish the time I’ve spent with Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Abbey, Phillip Pullman, Chuck Klosterman, and Wendell Berry, as well as many other wonderful writers.

But in the interest of continuing the ‘noticings’ and anti-racism work that has been so important in my Lutheran Volunteer Corps year, I want to challenge myself to go beyond my favorite straight white male authors.  Which is why I have decide that for one year I will read from the margins, or at least closer to it than the majority of prose these days.  I will read science fiction and fantasy by women, history by people of color, and novels by LGBT individuals in hopes of more intentionally viewing the world and the realm of possibility through a non-dominant lens.

This personal challenge has already proven difficult.  I went through my library requests queue to delete anything that was written by a straight white man, and lo and behold I was left with not a single book in my request list (though, for full disclosure, I have three books waiting for me on hold that are all by women).  Will I have to try harder to find interesting things to read for the year?  Certainly not.  There are multitudes of overflowing bookshelves filled with insightful and intriguing writing penned by individuals outside of the demographic in power.  But will I have to be more intentional and aware of my reading choices?  Certainly so.  But it will be a pleasant intentionality I think.

I hope to start this new year of reading with recommendations, especially for non-fiction.  A few have been shared by friends in the Twin Cities area, but I am always always always looking for more.  So- who are your favorite non straight white male writers?


Solitude in the City

It’s no secret: I love GOOD Magazine.  Not many days go by without me posting a link to one of their articles or blog posts on my Facebook, in hopes that the sometimes cute and often insightful ideas of GOOD will make their way to a few more people in the world.

In the last few months, GOOD has put out Doodle challenges.  A theme is announced, and anyone who is interested can post their Doodles relating to the theme, for a chance to win a subscription to the magazine and often a t-shirt as well.  One might think ‘they say doodles, but the only submission that has a chance at winning is something done by an actual artist’.  Not so.  Most of the Doodle submissions are black and white, and while detailed are generally not the work of practiced artists.

My favorite of the challenges was a Doodle prompt entitled Solitude in the City.  While the resulting submissions were lovely, I was more interested in the two ideas contained in the prompt, as they are both concepts that have been unfolding in my life in the last year.  Solitude, a strange kind of striving for someone as social as I am ordinarily, but an increasingly significant inclusion into my week as I dive deeper into relationships and social change work.  And the City, a place with innumerable communities, cultures and crevices to explore.  I am finding favorite nooks for people watching, biking destinations, the best happy hours, and realizing that the City is where I belong, at least for the next few years, time enough to carve out a space, both in physical location and vocation, in which to build community.  So Solitude in the City in a certain way is the middle place, the balance point between pressing outward while meditating upon one’s inward life.

Here is my Doodle for my Solitude in the City, a simple piece on how deeply biking has impacted my year.


Small joys, and a challenge.

I came across this little critter while trekking up the 10th Avenue Cepro site stairs to pick up the daily Midtown Greenway Coalition mail (that’s the Midtown Greenway bike path in the background).  From whence did it come?  Was this a child’s forgotten craft project?  I think not, for I saw several suspiciously similar shapes in various other corners of the Cepro site while biking in to work.  Regardless, this viridian varmit prompted a BLOG CHALLENGE BRAINSTORM!

The challenge: 1) Choose a mascot of any sort. 2) Take a photo of this mascot in front of your favorite place wherever you happen to live. 3) Post this photo either as a comment to this post, or on your own blog and then comment with a link, by 11:59 p.m. Central time on Friday, August 6th.

There will be prizes, for best mascot and most intriguing favorite place, and maybe others depending on how creative people may be.  I will mail the winners something delightful, and announce them here on Saturday, August 7th.


Words to live by: Raymond Carver

“Forgive me if I’m thrilled with the idea, but just now I thought that every poem I write ought be called Happiness.”

Sentimental?  Yes, entirely.  But I adore this idea from this marvelous poet and writer who had anything but a spotless and carefree life.  What a world it would be if much of what we wrote, spoke, and lived could be called Happiness.  I actually have a number of moments in time, sometimes developing into days, that could be called Happiness of various sorts.  Sometimes it is Bliss, other times Contentment, occasionally Peace, and very often Joy.