MWD17 - On Wandering, A Bit Aimlessly

Welcome to Midweek Dinner, the mental equivalent of scrounging in the fridge to pull together a meal. Except this is a meal of ideas, thoughts, unexpected joys, and yes, sometimes there's food. Subscribe to receive this assortment of goodness in your inbox every Wednesday.

I finished War and Peace this morning. That’s not a brag, humble or outright. It’s just what’s true. And it is what has me standing in front of the bookshelf that houses the as-yet-unread collection, mouth and glass door hanging equally open, like a bored summer teenager, thinking she’s hungry but not sure what she wants to eat. I’m already reading two other books, so why can’t one of those just move to the morning spot that has been held by Tolstoy for 80 or so days? Closing the door, holding a selection, I’m still not sure where I’m going next. This journey, it is not a straight line. But it is Wednesday and it is very late, and here we are, so we’d best dig around in here and see what’s edible.

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For obvious reasons, James Baldwin has been cropping up everywhere lately. After I read this old Esquire interview, I sent it to the mayor of my city. It is difficult to process all we’ve lost by not heeding Baldwin’s words when he uttered them. It is my hope that our city will go beyond the “least we can do” and into the “this is going to be very uncomfortable for those of you awfully used to comfort” stage of things. In the interview, Baldwin takes absolutely no shit from the interviewer. I can’t tell if there’s actual hostility or if he’s just refusing to let him off the hook, but man, does he refuse. There were so many brilliant points that I had to stop copying them down. Just consider the whole interview worth copying. When the interviewer asks about firebombers, snipers, and looters, Baldwin brooks no compromise. He responds with a question of his own:

How in the world can you possibly begin to categorize the people of a community whom you do not know at all? I disagree with your classifications all together.

More than once, Baldwin refuses to allow the interviewer to continue with a line of questioning, and I am definitely here for this kind of interaction. Especially this exchange, which comes after Baldwin has already swatted away several leading, pestering questions about job-training or other “programs” that might fix the problem:

Q: But what I’m after are programs that you can work with.

Baldwin: What you mean by programs is a way of alleviating the distress without having it cost you anything. 

Q: Well, even, if we were willing to spend the money . . . 

Baldwin: I’m not talking about money.

Brilliant. Damning. So much admiration.

I also intended to listen to this interview with Studs Terkel, but I haven’t gotten to it yet, so that will have to be for tomorrow.  

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This feature on Barbara Ehrenreich did its job because now I want to read her work. In the piece, she explains that “Two things guide my writing. One is anger, and the other is curiosity.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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For more on the problematic nature of mass incarceration and my favorite enemy — convenience — read Sarah Stillman’s “Compassionate Release.”

It left me angry and curious.

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Michelle Alexander and Wesley Lowery both delivered powerful work this week. Alexander with “America, This is Your Chance” and Lowery with “Why Minneapolis Was the Breaking Point.” 

Both stand in this intersection of a moment and offer compelling arguments for how we got here and where we need to go. 

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This action figure has been for weeks lying abandoned in a parking lot I pass through when I walk the dogs. I want to abuse it. Instead, I just photograph it.

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Unexpected Joy Department

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I took a truly unexpected amount of joy from the raw and seemingly effortless way this newly-discovered story (“The Resident Poet”) from Katherine Dunn describes and simultaneously insults the titular character. I mean, c’mon, this is devastating:

His worries are bunched in lumps all over his forehead. At a stoplight, he gives me a quick, constipated grin.

It is a relentless, ice-cold portrayal of this man, from start to finish, and the story is unpleasant and heartbreaking and a masterclass in characterization. The girl runs her fingers through his hair and compares it to cheap upholstery. It is not a nice story, but it is awfully well-done.

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And Now for Some Truly Shameless Self-Promotion

(or what I’ve posted lately)

Sunday, I took us back to one of my earliest favorites - Nikki Giovanni. She is a national treasure, and even though she takes more side trips when she talks than should be legal, I delight to hear her tell stories, and I delight to read her work. https://www.sarabethwest.com/post/on-sundays-we-read-poetry-2

And this memoir-in-verse from poet Nikki Grimes surprised me with all its gorgeous truth-telling and the unexpected connetions her story created. https://www.sarabethwest.com/post/on-threads-and-nikki-grimes-s-ordinary-hazards

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Thanks as always for reading and thinking with me. Have comments, suggestions, or questions? Reply to this email, and I promise a response.