August 11, 2019

In truth, a library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage.

The Library Book
By Susan Orlean

This book lacked so much focus and editing that it's hard to embrace it 100%.* But it also enriched my knowledge of library history and captured the essence of the public library as a reliable sanctuary for everyone in a community. I have fond childhood memories of visiting my own local library, located a few blocks away from home. We didn't have a lot of money to spend on books, so the library was godsend and I remember the excitement of circling the small space searching for the maximum number of books (25) to check out at once. In later years, the same library employed my teenaged brother.  (Still thankful for this.) Today, I continue to view the library as a reliable sanctuary and often utilize it as such.

"In truth, a library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage."
(p. 59)

Painful to think of all the text that has been lost over the years as a result of human cruelty and ego. Let's please not forget this history.
"In the saga of humankind, most things are done for money—arson especially—but there is no money to be made by burning libraries. Instead, libraries are usually burned because they contain ideas that someone finds problematic. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the pope ordered Jewish books to be collected and "cremated" (the choice of terms at the time) because he believed they spread anti-Catholic thought. The Spanish Inquisition introduced the idea of book-burning festivals, which were community gatherings around bonfires made of "heretical" books, including any written in Hebrew, especially the Torah.
The Spanish continued their book burning abroad. In the mid-1500's, Hernan Cortes and his soldiers burned scores of Aztec manuscripts on the grounds that they contained black magic. After Cortes's victory, a priest named Diego de Landa was assigned to inflict Catholicism on the Mayan people. De Landa was fascinated by Mayan culture, yet he oversaw the torture and murder of scores of Mayans, and he burned every Mayan book and image he found. Only a few codices are known to have survived De Landa's purge, and those are among the only remaining documents of the Mayan civilization."
(p. 97)

"You could fill a book with the list of lost libraries of the world, and in fact, there have been many books written about them, including one with the haunting title Libricide, written by a professor of library science. Early in history, when there were fewer books, and printing copies were expensive and time-consuming, the loss of a library could be terminal. UNESCO released studies in 1949 and in 1996 listing all the libraries that have been demolished throughout modern history. The number of books destroyed, by UNESCO's count, is so enormous—in the billions—that I sometimes find it hard to believe there are any books left in the world.
War is the greatest slayer of libraries. Some of the loss is incidental. Because libraries are usually in the center of cities, they are often damaged when cities are attacked. Other times, though, libraries are specific targets. World War II destroyed more books and libraries than any event in human history. The Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books during their twelve years in power. Book burning was, as author George Orwell remarked, "the most characteristic [Nazi] activity.""
(pp. 97-8)

"The grinding destruction of the war crushed the libraries of Europe. Some were merely unlucky and got caught in fire bombings and aerial attacks meant for more strategic targets. But the German army singled out books for destruction. Special book-burning squads known as "Brenn-Kommandos" were sent out to burn libraries and synagogues. The squads were effective. Enumerating the losses of libraries in the war, both incidental and purposeful, is dizzying. Twenty major libraries containing two million books were destroyed in Italy. France lost millions more, including 300,000 in Strasbourg, 42,000 in Beauvais, 23,000 in Chartres, and 110,000 in Douai. The Library of the National Assembly in Paris burned down, taking with it countless historic arts and science books. In Metz, officials hid the library's most valuable books in an unmarked warehouse for safekeeping. A German soldier found the warehouse and threw an incendiary device into it. Most of the books, including rare eleventh- and thirteenth-century manuscripts were destroyed. During the Blitz, twenty million books in Great Britain burned or were wrecked by the water used to extinguish the fires. The Central Lending Library in Liverpool was completely ruined. (The rest of the city's libraries stayed open throughout the Blitz, maintaining regular hours and levying the usual overdue fines.)
After the 1938 Munich Conference , every book in the Czech language that dealt with geography, biography, or history was confiscated and either burned or mashed into pulp. In Vilnius, Lithuania, the library in the Jewish ghetto was set on fire. A few months later, the residents of the ghetto were shipped to concentration camps and gassed, illustrating the truth in German poet Heinrich Heine's warning: "There were one burns books, one in the end burns men." In Budapest, all small libraries and at least part of every major one was destroyed. Belgium's huge Library of the University of Louvain suffered more than almost any library in Europe. In World War I, the German army had burned it down. After the Armistice, a consortium of European nations rebuilt the library, and it reopened to great celebration. In 1940, the library was hit by German artillery fire, and all of the books in its stack were lost, including Old Masters prints and almost one thousand books published before 1500. In Poland, eighty percent of all books in the country were destroyed. In Kiev, German soldiers paved the streets with reference books from the city's library to provide footing for their armored vehicles in the mud. The troops then set the city's libraries on fire, burning four million books. As they made their way across Russia, the troops burned an estimated ninety-six million more.
The Allies' bombing of city centers in Japan and Germany inevitably hit libraries. Theodore Welch, who studies libraries in Japan, has written that by the time the American army arrived in 1945, three quarters of all the books in the country's libraries had been burned or damaged. The losses in Germany were astonishing. Most of the library books in cities including Bremen, Aachen, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Dresden, Munich Hanover, Munster, and Hamburg were incinerated. Three quarters of a million were destroyed in Darmstadt; more than a million in Frankfurt; two million in Berlin. By the end of the war, more than one third of all the books in Germany were gone."
(pp. 99-101)

August 05, 2019

But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense.

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Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches
By Audre Lorde

Uses of the Erotic

"As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge."
(p. 53)

"It is never easy to demand the most of ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.
This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others. Such a demand incapacitates everyone in the process. For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.
The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision—a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.
(pp. 54-5)

"The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects—born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives."
(p. 55)

"We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But, once recognized, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression as women.
When we live outside ourselves, and by that I mean on external directives only rather than from our internal knowledge and needs, when we live away from those erotic guides from within ourselves, then our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need, let alone an individual's. But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within."
(pp. 56-7)

August 04, 2019

Your silence will not protect you.

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Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches
By Audre Lorde

The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

"In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else's words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into perspective gave me great strength.
I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you."
(p. 41)

August 03, 2019

We learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge, and therefore, lasting action comes.

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Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches
By Audre Lorde

Poetry Is Not a Luxury

"But as we come more into touch with our own ancient, non-European consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge, and therefore, lasting action comes."
(p. 37)

"We can train ourselves to respect our feelings and to transpose them into a language so they can be shared. And where that language does not yet exist, it is our poetry which helps to fashion it. Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundation for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before."
(p. 37)

"The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us - the poet - whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom."
(p. 38)

July 31, 2019

And it's not that there are no individuals who are nationalists, or racists, but that the taking of a state position against nationalism, against racism is what makes it possible for a society like this to function.

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Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
By Audre Lorde

From "Trip to Russia." I don't know that any of these observations, from 1976, hold. But what I found most interesting is how pleasant, relative to the U.S., her experience in Russia was as a black, woman, lesbian, feminist writer. She was regarded with respect, and not contempt.

"In Russia you carry your own bags in airports and hotels. This, at first, struck me as oppressive because, of course, carrying a laden bag up seven flights of stairs when the elevator isn't working is not fun. But the longer I stayed there the fairer it seemed, because in this country it appears that everything is seen in terms of food. That is, the labor of one's hands is measured by how much food you can produce, and then you take that and compare its importance to the worth of the other work that you do. Some men and women spend their whole lives, for instance, learning and doing the infinitely slow and patient handwork of retouching Persian Blue tiles down in Samarkand to restore the ancient mausoleums. It is considered very precious work. But antiquities have a particular value, whereas carrying someone else's bag does not have a very high priority because it is not very productive either of beauty or worth."
(p. 15)

"The people here in Tashkent, which is quite close to the Iranian border, are very diverse, and I am impressed by their apparent unity, by the ways in which the Russian and the Asian people seem to be able to function in a multinational atmosphere that requires of them that they get along, whether or not they are each other's favorite people. And it's not that there are no individuals who are nationalists, or racists, but that the taking of a state position against nationalism, against racism is what makes it possible for a society like this to function."
(p. 23)

"The peoples of the Soviet Union, in many respects, impress me as people who can not yet afford to be honest. When they can be they will either blossom into a marvel or sink into decay. What gets me about the United States is that it pretends to be honest and therefore has so little room to move toward hope. I think that in America there are certain kinds of problems and in Russia there are certain kinds of problems, but basically, when you find people who start from a position where human beings are at the core, as opposed to a position where profit is at the core, the solutions can be very different. I wonder how similar human problems will be solved. But I am not always convinced that human beings are at the core here, either, although there is more lip service done to that idea than in the U.S."
(p. 28)

July 30, 2019

That's when I knew she was forever caught in her own undercurrent, bouncing from one deep swell to the next.

© Gustavo Rimada
Sabrina & Corina
Kali Fajardo-Anstine

I added this collection of short stories to my reading list after I came across this Instagram post by Latinas Poderosas, highlighting Kali's following quote: "I think our ancestors were shamed for speaking Spanish, and now I feel shame for not speaking Spanish." I felt that deeply, and my shame & frustration of not being able to speak my language fluently—despite it being my first, native language—is constant. It's hard because it feels natural to blame myself, or my parents, and each produces guilt or a feeling of inferiority, or both. It's not anyone's fault. Instead, I'm trying to face that I've internalized shame over the years, passed down from generations. Lately, I've been trying to enter more spaces that are celebratory of my Latinx heritage, and to fully embrace it shamelessly, even if I don't always feel like I "belong." A few years ago, I enrolled in an intermediate Spanish conversation class and quickly noticed a difference, so I may do that again soon.

A powerful meditation on friendship, mothers and daughters, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands...Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home

The storytelling here was moving; the writing surprising and great—infused with magic and hard truths. The stories represent powerful resistance to negative patterns and the yearning to represent and be more than your past. Appreciative for how a thing can find its way to you when you need it.

"I thought of all the women my family had lost, the horrible things they'd witnessed, the acts they simply endured. Sabrina had become another face in a line of tragedies that stretched back generations. And soon, when the mood hit my grandmother just right, she'd sit at her kitchen table, a Styrofoam cup of lemonade in her warped hand, and she'd tell the story of Sabrina Cordova—how men loved her too much, how little she loved herself, how in the end it killed her. The stories always ended the same, only different girls died, and I didn't want to hear them anymore."
(from title story, "Sabrina and Cordova," p. 44)

"Her stance was wobbly and unrefined, as though she had given someone else permission to wear her skin. That's when I knew she was forever caught in her own undercurrent, bouncing from one deep swell to the next. She would never lift me out of that sea. She would never pause to fill her lungs with air. Soon the world would yank her chain of sadness against every shore, every rock, every glass-filled beach, leaving nothing but the broken hull of a drowned woman. I turned away from my mother then, heading toward the carriage house, whispering no so many times that I sounded like a cooing dove. My mother asked for more than once for me to stop. The further I walked, the further her voice moved from giddy to shrill, rising above the hibiscus and palm trees, booming off the front house and carriage house doors."
("Any Further West," p. 179)

July 08, 2019

Humans carry around legacy behaviors and biases, jerry-rigged holdovers from earlier stages of evolution that follow their own obsolete rules.

© Albert Bierstadt / Art Resource

The Overstory
By Richard Powers

"Adam can't stop reading. Again and again, the book shows how so-called Homo sapiens fail at even the simplest logic problems. But they're fast and fantastic at figuring out who's in and who's out, who's up and who's down, who should be heaped with praise and who must be punished without mercy. Ability to execute simple acts of reason? Feeble. Skill at herding each other? Utterly, endlessly brilliant. Whole new rooms open up in Adam's brain, ready to be furnished. He looks up from the book to see a library closing down and throwing him out...
The book is so elegant that Adam kicks himself for not having seen the truth long before. Humans carry around legacy behaviors and biases, jerry-rigged holdovers from earlier stages of evolution that follow their own obsolete rules. What seem like erratic, irrational choices are, in fact, strategies created long ago for solving other kinds of problems. We're all trapped in the bodies of sly, social-climbing opportunists shaped to survive the savanna by policing each other."
("Adam Appich," p. 61)

"Miles below and three centuries earlier, a pollen-coated wasp crawled down the hole at the tip of a certain green fig and laid eggs all over the involute garden of flowers hidden inside. Each of the world's seven hundred and fifty species of Ficus has its own unique wasp tailored to fertilize it. And this one wasp somehow found the precise fig species of her destiny. The foundress laid her eggs and died. The fruit that she fertilized became her tomb.
Hatched, the parasite larvae fed on the insides of this inflorescence. But they stopped short of laying waste to the thing that fed them. The males mated with their sisters, then died inside their plush fruit prison. The females emerged from the fig and flew of, coated in pollen, to take the endless game elsewhere. The fig they left behind produced a red bean smaller than the freckle on the tip of Douglas Pavlicek's nose. That fig was eaten by a bulbul. The bean passed through the bird's gut dropped from the sky in a dollop of rich shit that landed in the crook of another tree, where sun and rain nursed the resulting seedling past the million ways of death. It grew; its roots slipped down and encased its host. Decades passed. Centuries. War on the backs of elephants gave way to televised moon landings and hydrogen bombs.
The bole of the fig put forth branches, and branches built their drip-tipped leaves. Elbows bent from the larger limbs, which lowered themselves to earth and thickened into new trunks. In time, the single central stem became a stand. The fig spread outward into an oval grove of three hundred main trunks and two thousands minor ones. And yet it was all still a single fig. One banyan."
("Douglas Pavlicek," p. 81)