On ‘The View from Flyover Country’

The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten AmericaThe View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kendzior

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If we ever hope to move beyond that which divides us, we must collectively rip off those band-aids, acknowledge various problems that plague us as a nation and society, and begin the truly difficult discussions in order to find long-term and permanent solutions to address those problems.

This book helps with that first step: ripping off the band-aids, and highlighting how we did not simply arrive at this particular moment. We should have expected it. And, anyone living in or from a flyover region most likely intuitively knows this. Class. Race. Gender. All of these issues have divided us for much longer than the current political rhetoric of divisiveness. Really, rather than collectively rising up against a system rigged from day one to benefit those already in power at the expense of the rest of us, we fight one another based on characteristic X [insert identity here]. Yet, we all continue to struggle. We all continue to lose our footing or positions. And, we all continue to work harder to move towards attaining that American dream as we navigate the worst sort of nightmare.

Thank you, Sarah Kendzior, for this collection of rather timeless essays and commentaries on the condition of life in flyover America. It’s brutal. It’s real. And, it’s completely necessary.

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On ‘How to Write a Lot’

How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic WritingHow to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing by Paul J. Silvia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A colleague / friend with whom I’ve been working the last year recently mentioned this little gem of a book to me as we discussed some rather disappointing peer reviews she’d received.

Academic writing is hard work, often leaving writers / authors rather dispirited and unmotivated. Finding motivation to write at all remains a constant battle for many of us. And, time and again, I find myself saying to students, colleagues and myself, ‘just schedule time to write and only write if you want to accomplish anything’.

More than anything, that message rings out loud and clear throughout this precious little bit of encouragement by Paul Silvia.

I genuinely love this book. Its tone. Its thinness. Its simplicity. Its language. And, its messages, both primary and supporting. Whether student or mentor, writing an article or book manuscript or proposal, whether just beginning or seeking to finish items on your to-do list, this book offers something for everyone.

In the week since it arrived, I’ve gone from planning to read a chapter at a time to plowing through it as if it is the most exciting suspense novel ever. It’s just that engaging. And, I will be recommending, if not demanding, that all of my students give it a read regardless of where they live within the graduate school landscape.

Thank you, Paul Silvia. I’ll be revisiting my own writing schedule this weekend. And, recommitting to cleaning my desk procrastinating less.

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On ‘A Perilous Path’

A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the LawA Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law by Sherrilyn Ifill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’d love to have these same individuals revisit each of their discussion points as we approach the midterms and nearly two years into the Trump administration’s reign.

What a brilliant dialogue, and a necessary one. Despite the despair and frustration and outrage many of us feel daily, it’s important to hold on to hope. And, that is the message that rings through in the final pages of this short, but eloquent read.

‘Never again.’

Perhaps these words need to become slogans in today’s America. One of the most profound realities expressed here ever-so-poignantly and clearly is that we will never begin to move beyond our history of repression until we fully accept, acknowledge and understand it’s consequences. Perhaps more so, we must open our eyes to the full-scale of those atrocities.

From the decimation of indigenous populations and usurping their existence and power to the long history of slavery and the aftermath in Jim Crow and segregation both real and imagined. History has consequences, and sweeping those horrors under giant carpets won’t suffice in moving beyond and tackling the various issues which continue to persist.

If we want a country guided and fueled by hope, acceptance, justice and equality if not equity, we also must work within our communities to create those realities. Yes, the national conversation is important. But, change is change, no matter how large or small, and most of live lives within small communities, both real and virtual. Stand up (or sit down), speak truth to stupid and power, and find ways to create communities which reflect those ideals of just, hopeful, righteous and kind. Those ripples we create may travel far, and that is the only thing which will change the national fabric in any long-term and lasting way.

‘Never again’, indeed.

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On ‘Running Is My Therapy’

Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live HappierRunning Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier by Scott Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last month has been enormously stressful and emotional. Highs and lows abound, and many a run has been completed as I quietly (or not) choked back tears. After each of those runs, however, I felt better, either less stressed or if not less emotional at least less immediately in need of a good long cry.

In Running Is My Therapy, Scott Douglas confirms much of what I already knew to be true about running. At least what running means and does for me. Running, these past few years, has certainly helped me stave off the pits of despair and keep that little black dog at bay, both those periods induced by life’s curve balls and trials, but also my own life-long battle with depression. Yet, I am not a life-long runner–it’s only within the last four or five years and certainly the last year when I’ve become a consistent runner. Running truly IS my therapy. In many respects, lacing up and hitting the trails helps me employ various tools I learned from cognitive behavioural therapy years ago.

Backed by a plethora of references and research documenting the benefits to running, this is an incredibly insightful read. But, for me, the most important message was relatively simple, although often repeated. That isn’t a complaint. Running when we least want to is often when need to the most and when we gain the most benefit. Indeed. I’ve experienced this myself several times during this past month.

In the midst of life’s turmoil at the moment, I had to take about 10 days off–unfortuante timing related to an appointment for fresh ink. As my skin healed, I really, really, really wanted and needed to run during those 10 days. My husband and I try to walk every evening in addition to my regular running schedule. But, running is when I truly empty my head. And, too much noise was accumulating during that 10-day break. My first run back was long and labourious, and at times the urge to quit was strong. I kept telling myself to just go a bit further. Make it through the next interval. Focus on X rather than Y. Still, after those 12 plodding kilometres, I felt better and better able to simply cope with what comes next.

Now, I understand that a) I’m not alone in this mental reset benefit from running and b) the science behind it. My rational brain appreciates that immensely, particularly the latter.

Obviously, for the darkest times and those facing the darkest of thoughts and deepest pits of despair, seeking professional help is best if not altogether necessary. And, I’ll keep this in mind should I sink into a particularly black period in future. For now, I’ll continue my planned runs, forgive myself when I don’t quite achieve what I intended and use the mental and physical strength running provides me to push onward through life’s bittersweet lemons.

One step at a time.

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On ‘The Fire Next Time’

The Fire Next TimeThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, and just about anything else written by James Baldwin, remains relevant. It’s spooky and altogether tragic that pieces written in the 1960s reflect the current realities lived by black communities and individuals in the US today.

Eloquent. Honest. Brutally clear and well-reasoned throughout, The Fire Next Time, much like all of his works, should be required reading for us all. They also serve as a stark reminder of the as yet unfulfilled promises of the Civil Rights era.

We will never move beyond the divisions we face now if we do not honestly and openly sit down and listen to one another and attempt to understand what it means to grow up black in the US.

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On ‘The Corpse Exhibition…’

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of IraqThe Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m honestly not entirely sure what I think about most of these short stories.

This was a compelling read, primarily because it provides a glimpse into a world I most likely will never fully understand or comprehend. War-torn Iraq both before and after the 2003 invasion by the US remains utterly incomprehensible for its violence and chaos. And, these stories paint rather vivid pictures of the realities lived by Iraqis against it all.

War is hell, and the hell lived by Iraqis is rather beautifully captured in this collection. It is not an easy read, but it is compelling.

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Surrealistic pillow, v2.0

My dreams in Helsinki are never as vivid or as surreal as those when we’re on holiday. But, every once in a while, my subconscious plays a little joke on me as I slumber. This morning, my subconscious decided to remind that I evidently really love gin and need to read some Hemingway again soon. Or, simply, Cuba is on my mind.

Just before waking, I dreamt that I was at some rather random gathering involving sail boats and Christmas trees, neither of which are at all common in my waking world. Amidst the festivities, some of us sat at a rather plain table whilst several of my fellow real-life gin-loving friends waxed poetic and sang the praises of one gin or another.

As a bottle of one of those gins was passed around, I poured myself a rather generous glass. No ice. No tonic. No garnish. Just gin. [NB: As much as I do enjoy a lovely and refreshing gin and tonic on a warm summer afternoon, I’d never ever consider just pouring a full glass! ]

After pouring, I look up and across the table from me sat Papa Hemingway, without his captain’s hat or pipe, but most definitely his snow-white beard and paunch.

Looking on and seemingly otherwise rather bored, what was his reaction to my long pour?

‘Is that all for you, sister, or are you sharing?’

I woke myself up chuckling.

Dream a dream, and make yourself wonder what the hell goes on in that head of yours when you aren’t distracted by all the bloody noise.

Papa Hemingway