A few pictures from our trip to Carson City last weekend! We love seeing family, of course, but frankly the highlight of the trip was Ratchet the dwarf goat. He is possibly the cutest animal I’ve ever seen.
(My in-laws house and care for a herd of goats that does weed control and fire abatement work in the Reno area. Need some land cleared? Call Goat Grazers!)
These small creatures will not mow your lawn:
But this one will!
The anthology Fae, including one of my short stories, was released today! I got my contributor copy in the mail and it looks really nice—I can’t wait to sit down and read the other stories.
There’s also a “virtual launch party” happening on Facebook from 7 to 10 PM Eastern time, with prizes and stuff, so feel free to pop by if you like!
It’s summer! And lots of stuff has been happening!
Robin “graduated” from kindergarten:
And spent a week at horse camp:
And has since perfected the art of louche summer decadence:
Davy had a birthday! (It was a Minecraft party.)
And Sol has sprung up like a weed. We call him “Wreckin’ Ball Sol” because he basically spends his days destroying the house to the full extent of his abilities. His favorite activity is to climb up on the dining room table and throw anything he finds there (plates, etc) onto the floor. If there’s no crockery to smash, he’ll go into the bathroom and try pulling all the toilet paper down. Or throwing anything he can reach in other rooms into the tub. Another favorite activity is to pull everyone’s clothes out of their dresser drawers, or to toss handfuls of kibble from the dog’s food bowl about the kitchen.
Wreckin’ Ball Sol:
We still have some excellent summer fun planned, including a trip to Carson City to see Pappy and Nonna; a weekend at a beach house with Nanita and Markie; a week of swim lessons for Robin and Davy; and a couple of projects that probably deserve their own posts.
Hope you all are enjoying the summertime! I’d better go before Sol uproots all the houseplants and swallows all the Legos.
Oakland Police Department says:
REMINDER: Stay Safe During Holiday Celebrations: Avoid Illegal Fireworks and Celebratory Gunfire
The Oakland Police Department and Fire Department are working together to plan for a safe 4th of July in the City of Oakland.
Oakland’s Police Chief Sean Whent and Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed want you to celebrate Independence Day safely and would like to remind everyone of the dangers and penalties associated with celebratory firearm discharges and the use of illegal fireworks. Setting off fireworks and shooting guns possess a great risk for injury and even death. As such, they have no place in our City.
As a part of our commitment to public safety, quality of life and vitality in our communities, OPD is focused on stopping illegal gun use. During the holiday the Department will be increasing staffing and deploying patrol officers to specific areas of the City that have the highest amount of gunshot and firework activity as indicated by ShotSpotter activation and data collection from last year.
Officers will arrest anyone caught discharging a firearm. Officers will additionally be enforcing illegal fireworks and focus on prevention and education.
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
(I took this picture—actually a composite of a few different pictures—from my back steps. No need to travel to see a light show! Neighbors got that covered. There was plenty of “celebratory gunfire” too, although that wasn’t as pretty.)
The New York Times today ran an opinion piece titled “The Right to Write” by Roxana Robinson which I really want to respond to, because it’s so very shallow, self-serving, and misleading. It begins:
I sat on a panel once with another novelist and a distinguished African-American critic, to discuss Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The critic said, “Of course, as a white woman, Stowe had no right to write the black experience.” The other novelist said lightly, “No, of course not. And I had no right to write about 14th-century Scandinavians. Which I did.”
The exchange made me wonder: who has the right to our stories?
For centuries, African-Americans couldn’t fully participate in the literary conversation, since for many of them literacy was forbidden. Why wouldn’t they resent the fact that their stories were told by whites? But does this mean that, as novelists, we can write stories only of our own race, our own gender, our own subcultural niche?
Stowe used other people’s stories as sources, but what drove her to write was her own outraged response to slavery. She has the right to that response. Isn’t it better that Stowe wrote her book, instead of staying respectfully mute because the stories were not hers to tell? It was the narrative strands about the black experience that gave the book such emotional potency, and made it such a powerful abolitionist force.
Who owns the story, the person who lives it or the person who writes it?
Robinson goes on to reveal that she herself has written a novel about a subculture (in this case war veterans) to which she does not belong, and that she has received protests from readers that she misrepresented their experiences. Her essay is basically a defensive one.
But do I have the right to write about a firefight in Falluja, if I wasn’t there? Does it demonstrate respect and admiration for the soldiers, and show evidence of their importance in our culture? Or does it insult those who risked their lives, if I take literary possession of that experience? Am I exploiting other people’s experience for my own ends?
She goes on to protest that her ends are pure, that Shakespeare did it too, and she ends by retreating into a vague musical metaphor that conveniently allows her insinuate answers to the questions she has laid out without having to state her case plainly. Perhaps because it’s an ugly case:
And how does exploitation get into this discussion? Because the word suggests ignorance and deception, an imbalance of power.
Well, yes, that is what the word suggests. And it gets into this discussion because it the central issue under discussion. Robinson’s entire piece is an attempt to dance around, dismiss, and distract from the question of exploitation, but that is the question. Not whether Robinson has the “right” to write about a firefight in Fallujah: in the narrow legal sense, of course she does. Free speech gives writers the legal right to write about anything they want.
And free speech also gives those whose stories are written the right to respond, even to respond with outrage if they feel it is warranted. Writers are not rendered immune from criticism simply because their intentions are good, or they have “radical empathy,” in Robinson’s formulation. She started by invoking Harriet Beecher Stowe: yes, Stowe had the “right” to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. James Baldwin also had every right to his critical take-down of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He calls it “a very bad novel” marred by dishonesty and prejudice. Baldwin in fact concludes that the stereotypes Stowe created or affirmed in her anti-slavery books are a continuation of the same attitudes that enabled slavery in the first place: “Below the surface of this novel there lies, as it seems to me, a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy.”
Baldwin’s essential criticism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is that it is dishonest. The black characters are all reduced to stock types, rendered unthreatening through the denial of their essential humanity and agency. And as Baldwin says: “The formula created by the necessity to find a lie more palatable than the truth has been handed down and memorized and persists yet with a terrible power.”
So yes, I think it’s incredibly telling that Robinson reaches toward Stowe in self-defense—and then asks, with such wide-eyed bewilderment, “And how does exploitation get into this discussion?”
Go ask James Baldwin how, he told you in 1949.
In summary: of course writers may (even must) draw from beyond their own lives and experiences in their books. But when you start telling other people’s stories, you shoulder a particular responsibility to get it right. Baldwin isn’t criticizing Stowe for writing about slaves, he’s criticizing her for writing badly about slaves. Similarly, Robinson shouldn’t worry about whether she has the “right” to write about soldiers in combat. She should worry about whether, having assumed that burden voluntarily, she has fulfilled her responsibility to the truth.
Last night I dreamed that I was on the run from some sort of unexplained danger, shepherding the kids through an abandoned industrial center—like a waste-treatment plant or something. Lots of big vats and steel grating and catwalks and stuff.
Somewhere along the way, I lost track of Robin. I hunted and called for him frantically, and finally I caught a glimpse of him cowering in a crawlspace. In the space of minutes his hair had grown long and shaggy and covered his face. He cringed and snapped at me when I reached for him. And I remembered, then, something that in the dream I had always known: when boys grow up, they become savage, hairy, feral beasts. The dream-logic presented it as just a fact of nature, unavoidable, inalterable.
And I just started crying, “no, not my sweet Robin, not yet, it’s too soon! He still has baby teeth!” And then I woke up.
I think my subconscious is anticipating some issues with the teenage years.
To Pops and Pappy and Markie and Grandpa Wayne, but most of all to Sam, who carries this family with strength, generosity and good humor.
A couple weekends ago we flew to Dallas to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. It was a really nice celebration of her many achievements and a chance for our whole far-flung family to gather. Here’s nearly the whole clan on my mother’s side (thanks to my cousin Jessie for the photo):
And a couple of moments between second cousins (these both snapped by my cousin Pei):
Flying with three small children is not quite the ninth circle of hell, but easily the third or fourth. Still, I’m glad we had the chance to be part of such a special event. Many thanks to my mom and aunts for organizing the reunion, and to my grandmother for creating such a splendid family and living a life that inspires celebration.
Happy birthday to me
We live by the sea
Sometimes we’re stinky
But we blame the doggie!
Thank you to everyone for the cards and phone calls and nice birthday wishes! I am having a chill, relaxed, very enjoyable birthday snuggling with the baby and looking forward to a macaroni feast tonight (Sam’s cooking, and he’s really good at macaroni and cheese). Everyone is in fine fettle. Another year of this, please!