Thursday, September 5, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: WRAP UP

Summer is over, school has started and the sun is warming us a little less, which must mean it is time for my final summer reading, watching, and listening challenge post. Here are some highlights from the past 3 weeks:

BOOKS

The Color Purple by Alice Walker - I know I have read this before, but it jumped off of my bookshelf three weeks ago, and once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. In the back of the book Alice Walker thanks "everybody in this book for coming," and I don't believe I have ever read a book whose characters felt so true to life, as if they were channeled and not written. An amazing read.

Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail - I picked this book out of our Little Free Library months ago, but it never made it to the top of my stack until I started this challenge. What a shame. This is such a beautiful book. Told from the perspective of a journalist who joins a number of families from Cherán, Mexico on their journeys across the border from Mexico to the US. Inspired by the death of three men on the trail, this book is both heart-breaking and informative, and utterly necessary in today's political climate. 

MOVIES
Keep The Change - I stumbled upon this film on Prime last week and what a gem! A movie about people on the Autism spectrum actually starring actors who are on the Autism spectrum. A sweet, funny, and charming rom-com just perfect for a Girl's Night In. Starring Brandon Polansky and Samantha Elisofon, both of whom shine in their roles.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco - part fantasy/part memoir, this movie shows us the cost of gentrification through the eyes of one man, Jimmie Fails, both the writer and the star of this show. A gorgeous tribute to a city and to a life.

PODCASTS

Still Processing - a podcast featuring Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris ("two culture writers for the New York Times"), I experienced this as an edgier version of The Nod, which was a highlight from week 3. At times I found this a hard listen and in order to keep going with it I had to push past some of my fears about the future of whiteness in our country during the episode entitled "We Can't Burn It All Down (Even Though Sometimes We Want To)," but this is exactly why I know I need to keep this podcast in my feed. The only way to change our country is to experience the discomfort that I believe necessarily comes for white people as we dismantle white supremacy. 

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Thanks for joining me on this summer media challenge. It has been an eye-opening journey for me. Not only have I discovered the importance of reading, watching, and listening more widely, I have had the opportunity to confront my own resistance to doing so. There were times during the challenge when I "cheated" and turned on an old familiar show, something comfortable and not too confronting, or plugged into a podcast that features only white voices and perspectives. It was so easy to do so. But I know that for my own growth as a human being, and as a citizen of the new world that is being created, I need to continue listening to many voices, many rooms.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: UPDATE

Quick update on my summer reading challenge, Many Voices, Many Rooms: Although I will be continuing to read, watch, and listen to diverse media during the last two weeks of summer, I am going to be take a hiatus from writing this blog for the next couple of weeks. I am taking some time off to enjoy the last days of summer AND, I am also in the processing of finishing not one, but two, new books, which I will be self-publishing in early September.

I hope you will continue to think about reading, listening, and watching more widely -- and outside of your cultural comfort zone -- and I will publish a complete list of highlights from the last three weeks of the challenge in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, here are some wicked smart kids talking about why we need diverse books (and media!). Find out more at www.diversebooks.org.



Thanks for coming along with me on this journey and see you again soon!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 8

Highlights This Week

The first highlight this week is another "I'm late to the party" entry, Radiotopia's podcast Ear Hustle. Produced by Nigel Poor, a visual artist and now podcaster, who has been volunteering at California's San Quentin prison for eight years, and Earlonne Woods, an inmate at the prison, this podcast gives listeners a look "inside." The stories they tell are both shocking and sweet, and also important as we as a nation are forced to take a closer look at the inequities in all of our systems, including the penal system. No spoilers in this review, but season three includes a very happy ending for one of the inmates. A great listen.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray -  Another entry this week about the penal system and its effect on a family. This is a hard read, covering a wide variety of difficult human issues including bulimia, infidelity, aging, divorce, fraud, betrayal, estrangement, and abuse, but with glimmers of hope around the edges. I enjoyed spending time with these characters and this was one of those books I didn't want to end.

The Farewell - Yes! I saw Awkwafina's latest last weekend and it was as spare and effecting as promised in the previews. Make sure to stay until the very end or you'll miss the punchline of the whole movie.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 7

Highlights of the Week 

Becoming by Michelle Obama - Like Crazy Rich Asians from last week's post, this is a book I had been "meaning to read," but had kind of put off because everyone I know was reading it (I am nothing if not a band-wagoner). While browsing the airport bookstore shelves, however, it leapt off the shelf demanding to be purchased. At first I was disappointed, the beginning chapters read like summary of my own life in a tight-knit family in Iowa. Little did I know this would soon make this book feel like a conversation I was having with an old friend. In the book Michelle talks about the instant affinity she felt for Iowans while on the campaign trail, "I was in Iowa, but I had the distinct feeling of being at home. Iowans, I was realizing were like Shieldses and Robinson. They didn't suffer fools. They didn't trust people who put on airs. They could sniff out a phony a mile away."
Soon, it became a book I couldn't put down. Her struggles mirrored my own struggles: "This, unfortunately, was the box checker in me. I endured misery for the sake of appearances." Her marriage mirrored my own marriage: "It sounds a little like a bad joke, doesn't it? What happens when a solitude-loving individualist marries an outgoing family [person] who does not love solitude one bit?" Her anger, my own struggles with anger: "...[F]or better or worse, I tend to yell when I'm angry. When something sets me off, the feeling can be intensely physical, a kind of fireball running up my spine and exploding with such force that I sometimes later don't remember what I said in the moment." Through it all she manages to hang on, to find herself, and to invite us all to do the same, "Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there's more growing to be done." Love. Love. Love.


On The Moth Radio Hour podcast for July 16th, 2019, there is a story told by Gaelynn Lea called "Accessablility is the New Punk Rock," about what happened when a musician with a disability refused to play non-accessible venues. If you have any doubts that one person can make a difference in the world listen to Gaelynn's story.

The movie this week, thanks to a friend who watched the same movie on a flight to Brazil, is the missing movie from last week's post. It is called Talvez uma Historia de Amor (in English, Maybe a Love Story) and it is a lovely, melancholy rom com just perfect for a flight or Friday night at the end of a long week. 


Saturday, July 27, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 6

Highlights of the Week 
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich - Years ago I read - and loved - Louise Erdrich's early books: Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Crown of Columbus (written with her late husband), but it has been years since I picked up one of her books. Recently my mom gave me a copy of this book, the first in a series about an Ojibwa girl named Omakayas. A spare, beautiful tale of life lived in community and with family according to the seasons, this book makes clear how much was lost when the white man ("chimookoman") "discovered" this land. I have already downloaded the second book from the library. This is another book I can't wait to share with students.

Crazy Rich Asians - After hearing about it for the past year, I finally watched this movie on the plane ride home from Brazil last week -- I also watched a sweet Brazilian rom com that I wanted to include here, but I didn't write the name down and no matter how much I search I just can't find it. Just know that there is a sweet Brazilian rom com out there about a man who forgets his girlfriend after she breaks up with him. If you find it, let me know the title! -- and I really enjoyed it. I was always put off by the "rich" in the title, thinking it was going to serve up standard Hollywood food, real estate, and fashion porn, but this is a movie that goes deeper than its title. In an article in Vox, Alex Abad-Santos calls it, "a thorny love story between assimilation and acceptance” and I think this is a perfect summary of the deeper message this movie embodies. For me the best part of the movie was discovering the force that is Awkwafina. She is now staring in a movie called The Farewell, which is getting amazing reviews. I can't wait to see it!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 5

Highlight of the Week

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz - The New York Times book review calls this, a “mesmerizing, poetic exploration of family, friendship, love and loss.” I call it a heart-warming read and a book I can’t wait to share with my students. From the acclaimed author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which I also read and loved, my favorite quote comes from the Dad (Vincente), “No extra credit for being a decent human being.” In other words: just be a decent human being. Great advice for these troubling times.

Other Highlights
 
Closer Than They Appear a podcast featuring Carvell Wallace - The tagline for this podcast is, “If America is an estranged family, this podcast is our awkward holiday dinner,” but I found it softer than that. At once honest and hopeful, I am going to let two quotes from the podcast speak for themselves:

     "Hate and anger are guard dogs to fear." --Carvell Wallace
   
     “That is the challenge that we have as human beings - that the easy thing to do is always to divide people based on a problem. The hard thing to do is to unite people based on a solution." --Van Jones (episode 5)

A worthwhile listen for trying times, personal or political.

Community - Complex, critically acclaimed, and inclusive. This sit-com, while still Anglo-centric (see “Jeff Winger”), shows us how multi-culturalism can benefit us all. This is our family’s summer binge. Features a young Donald Glover as part of a great ensemble cast.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 4

Highlight of the Week

This week’s highlight is the podcast “Tell Them, I AM,” which is about "the small moments that define who we are and who we are not" featuring all Muslim voices. My favorite is still the very first one I listened to, a story by Akbar Ahmed about a train journey that changed his life. The host, Misha Euceph, starts each episode with an anecdote from her own life and then lets her guests take it from there. Notable guests include Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Iqbal Theba (Glee and Community), and Tan France (Queer Eye), but some of the best stories are from people I had never heard of. Simply lovely. 
Other Highlights

"Late Night" - written by and staring Mindy Kaling (The Office and The Mindy Project), and directed by Nisha Ganatra, Late Night deals directly, but also gently and with humor, with issues of racism, sexism and discrimination in the writers' room of a late night television show. Rogerebert.com describes it as, "an earnest and funny comedy, with very sharp teeth" and I would have to agree. It's not perfect, but it made me laugh and is the kind of movie I'd like to see more of - one that reflects diverse voices.

I'm still working on my book for this week so stay tuned for next week's post.....

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 3

Highlight of the Week

The highlight this week is a podcast called "The Nod," dedicated to "telling the stories of Black life that don't get told anywhere else." Hosted by Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings, this podcast is sometimes funny, sometimes challenging, and always entertaining and educational. Some of my favorite episodes are: "One-On-One," in which a young woman tells the story of how she reinvents her relationship with her dad after she stops playing basketball; "Rapper's Dismay" tells the story of a fifteen year old boy who uses argumentative writing to shine a light on redlining and oppression in his community (during my student teaching I used this episode with my students and they were rapt); and any episode featuring the game "Six Degrees of Black Separation." Maybe the most stirring episode I listened to was, "I am a White Woman," a review of the movie "White Chicks." Uncomfortable and important, I still think about this episode A LOT.

Other Highlights

The Netflix reboot of "Tales of the City" - Like many people I read - and loved - the original books, so I was a bit worried about this "return to Barbary Lane" twenty-five years later, but I think it is a fitting tribute to these beloved characters and the final episode had me in tears, which is always a good sign.

"The Geography Club" by Brent Hartinger - A YA novel about a high school boy who begins the process of coming out when he meets a popular jock in a gay chat room. A great novel to keep in your classroom or on your family bookshelf, it handles the issue of being gay in high school with both honesty and care. The first in a series, this book has also been made into a movie.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 2


Image result for octavia butler parable of the sower "creative commons"


Highlight of the Week

My number one highlight this week is, without a doubt, "The Parable of the Sower" by Octavia Butler. An African American Sci-Fi writer, Butler wrote this freakishly prescient book (The New Yorker describes it as, "Octavia Butler’s Prescient Vision of a Zealot Elected to 'Make AmericaGreat Again'") in 1993, but reading it feels like looking into our near future a few years before it happens. If you are a secondary ELA teacher, this is the perfect book to replace "1984", "The Handmaid's Tale," or any dystopian novel you normally teach. Featuring a young African American female hero you can't help but fall in love with and root for, this is one of the best books I have read in years.


Other Highlights

Always Be My Maybe - A heart-warming romcom starring Ali Wong and Randall Park, this movie earned a solid 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and was the perfect way to spend a vacation evening with my sister having a girly movie night. James Saito, who plays Randall Park's dad, is one of my favorite actors (he was great as the tell-it-like-it-is acupuncturist in "Eli Stone"), and is utterly charming as always. To read a first-hand account about why movies like this are so important, click here.  

NANCY podcast episode from December 31, 2018, "A Gaggle Resolution" - Self-described as "Stories and conversations about the queer experience today," Nancy is a charming and informative podcast hosted by best friends Kathy Tu and Tobin Low. My favorite episode chronicles Kathy and Tobin's "friend-tervention" with a guy named Joe who has long dreamed of having a "gaggle" of queer friends, but has had a hard time finding a group of friends to call his own. Kathy and Tobin are personable and vulnerable on the show and their read of the credits at the end is the most entertaining of any podcast I have listened to. (Snap Judgement's are a close second.)


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: Week 1

This week I worked on decolonizing the stack of books beside my bed, my Netflix queue, and my podcast feed. Here is what I have been reading, watching, and listening to this week: 

 Highlight of the Week

Image result for creative commons "on my block"
My reading, watching, listening highlight this week is the Netflix show “On My Block,” described on IMDB as,"A coming-of-age story about four bright, street-savvy friends navigating their way through high school in the gritty inner city of South Central Los Angeles.” This show features four excellent young actors and has a lot of heart. It’s not without its problems: the character called “Jasmine” plays into a lot of stereotypes about Latinas in the inner city and [spoiler alert] the fact that Jamal actually finds the Roller World money borders on the fantastical, but for me the importance of the show is summed up in one line from Cesar, “They don’t think we’re real. They think we’re a costume.” I believe that all evil that happens between humans starts with a dehumanizing of “the other” and I agree with Margaret J. Wheatley who said, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know." Just one reason why reading, watching, and listening widely is important. 

Other Highlights

"The Kiss Quotient" by Helen Hoang - a quirky (and sometimes racy) romance featuring a heroine with Asperger’s syndrome and a handsome escort named Michael Pham. I read it on a plane and was both openly crying and blushing in my seat. (With thanks to CD for sending it to me!)

The Snap Judgment podcast episode entitled “The Boy on the Beach” - a storytelling podcast, this week "the Snap" featured “the story behind the influential photo of the Syrian boy who drowned while attempting to reach Europe." Heartbreaking and important, a reminder that the photos we see in the media are not the whole story. A single line keeps reverberating in my mind, "I know those clothes, I know those clothes."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Many Voices, Many Rooms: A Multicultural Summer Reading, Watching, Listening Challenge

I recently finished a graduate program in teaching (which is why you haven’t heard from me on the blog in awhile...) and will be graduating on June 16th with a Master in Teaching degree from Seattle University. One of the topics we covered was the desperate need in this country for a more inclusive, multicultural curriculum. As a white person, the need for representation in the curriculum was something I hadn’t had to think about before because my stories  - or at least the stories of my white male ancestors - were represented in the curriculum, but in order to engage students (ALL students), they need to see themselves in the curriculum, they need to hear their stories and the stories of their ancestors.

How do we do that? 

One of the things I have really been looking forward to about finishing this program (besides working with kids in schools) is the opportunity to read for pleasure again. I really miss picking up a good book and diving into another person’s world. As I perused my “to be read” stack, however, I noticed that most of the authors were white. As are most of the hosts on the podcasts I listen to. As are most of the stars on the television shows I have queued up to watch. And I realized that this needs to change. If I am going to be a good teacher to ALL my students, I need to broaden my own horizons and stop filling my life with “a single story.”



The Challenge

The focus of the Many Voices, Many Rooms Summer Reading Challenge is on widening my reading, watching and listening horizons to include a more diverse collection of voices. Here are the rules: 1) The challenge lasts from June 1 to September 1 (I started this last week); 2) During this time I will read books, watch movies and television shows, and listen to podcasts that center minority voices; 3) I will post an update once a week and share some of my favorites on my blog.

I am a week in so far and already have some great things to share. Check back next week for my first list of weekly favorites!