xtina

Wires and Waves Reads: Garrard Conley’s Boy Erased

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It feels a bit like cheating to declare a book a favorite after only reading it once, but that is what I am going to do. Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased resonated with me on multiple levels, and I am sure that it is one I will come back to often. Conley grew up in Arkansas in a very religious Baptist family. As a teenager, his father accepted a calling as a pastor.Everyday secular activities and attitudes were considered to be of the devil, so his parents took his homosexuality particularly hard. When Conley first goes off to college, he is relieved. He can and does read all the books he wants, even sharing his favorite, The Picture of Dorian Gray, with his mother, with whom he is very close. He makes friends who know nothing about his very religious upbringing, and they do normal things like discuss literature, watch movies, and explore their campus. Most importantly, however, he can start to digest and accept his homosexuality outside of the confines of his small town and conservative family. After he is sexually assaulted and the assailant outs him to his family, he is sent to Love in Action, a conversion therapy program. It is just as terrible as you might imagine. At this center, homosexuality is compared to awful things like pedophilia and diseases like alcoholism. Conley is encouraged to blame his homosexuality on his parents or grandparents, and he is forced to give up all wordly interests, including his love of literature and writing.

Conley’s story is not just a cautionary tale of conversion therapy, although it serves this purpose well. It also explores the concept of identity as a whole and what makes up a person. We are not just our families, our religion, our friends, or our interests. All of those things are integral and intertwined in making a person, and Conley explores those themes beautifully. We are also not what people say we are, but it takes a lot of courage to dig out from under those expectations and stereotypes to become who we actually are. This does not just apply to the counselors and his family, as Conley makes it clear that faith also defines him in some ways. Conley writes so poetically that it made the hard parts even harder and the more illuminating parts even more so. I also really loved Conley’s relationship with his mother, as it shows that good people sometimes make bad decisions because they are trying to fill others’ expectations as well. I recommend this book to all the people in the world. Amen.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: Wires and Waves Reads

This blog post is part of a weeklong celebration of feminism started by Kelly Jensen.

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I am a feminist because I am a human. Many people mistakenly assume that a self-declared feminist is playing the victim. I do not see myself as a victim. I am not writing to defend feminism. I am writing to tell you what feminism means to me.

Being a feminist means developing empathy for all types of people because feminism should be for and about everybody (this is a very basic generalization of the concept of intersectional feminism). I am trying to do this by reading, listening to, and sharing perspectives of people who do not look like me. I typically try to read books that meet that qualification, as I think books are one of the best ways to learn about and develop empathy for other people.

I recently read Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give, and Thomas’ protagonist, Starr Carter, embodies both badassery and real feminism (that is: “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster)). Starr is a black teenager who leads two different lives. At home in Garden Heights, she can be herself. At her private school, she must be less “ghetto”; in effect, she must act white. After witnessing a cop kill her best friend Khalil– a young, black man– Starr’s dual personalities collide as her city protests. She is afraid that publicly announcing this fact will cost her some friendships; she is also afraid of being called out for abandoning her friends and her neighborhood.

Identity struggles are nothing new, particularly for teenagers. Starr’s struggles in particular are important due to the forced way in which she must confront them, as well as their relevancy to current events. Starr has a few school friends who grow tired of her “rants” on racism. In a conversation with one particular friend, Starr says she is tired of being expected to go along with her friend’s feminist agenda while being expected to keep her mouth closed about social justice.

If your feminism does not include people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ, non-binary people, people who are disabled, and people of all religions, then who is it for? I was inspired by Starr’s activism and her reconciliation of herself with the lives of all the people she loves, even, and especially, people who make mistakes. The Hate U Give was a phenomenal book, and I recommend it to everyone.

Also, the other half of this ol’ blog, Zach, created a playlist featuring music by cool ladies.


 

Words are good (Xtina Reads)

Hey, pals. It’s a little dusty around here. Actually, it’s a little smudgy. Anytime I try to get my computer out, Ben bangs on the keyboard like a sitcom character pretending to work when the boss comes by.

As always, I have been reading a lot lately. I am a little bit behind my goal, only because I have been reading more nonfiction books. The book I just read (Angela Davis’ Women, Race & Class) was the impetus for this blog post.

The world is a tumultuous and uncertain place always, but general human rights in our country seem to be dangling on a pretty thin thread as of late. People, I love you (even if I have social anxiety and hate going anywhere with people).

I think that fear drives most of the hatred certain people or groups harbor for other individuals or groups. When we get to know our neighbors, we are less likely to hate them. When we learn about another person’s struggles, they become more human and less of an abstract threat.

I am not very good at meeting people because, again, crowds of people intimidate me, but I do get to know a lot of different people at my job. I do like to read, though. I try to mostly read books written by people who do not look like me. I don’t pretend to be enlightened or anything, but the books have taught me many things. I love the books, guys. I encourage you to check out one, two, or all of the books on this list. Report back with a full book report. This can include a mixtape, a diorama, or a long-form essay.

Thank you and good night.

  1. Women, Race & Class– Angela Y. Davis
  2. Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay
  3. You Can’t Touch My Hair– Phoebe Robinson
  4. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel– Firoozeh Dumas
  5. The Underground Railroad– Colson Whitehead
  6. One Crazy Summer– Rita Williams-Garcia

Tell all the truth but tell it slant (Xtina’s band of the day)

Chances are good that if you name your band after a poem, especially an Emily Dickinson poem, I will like your band. At the very least, I will try. New York band Told Slant makes it easy. They remind me of early Modest Mouse and/or Built to Spill except the lyrics are more sad than sardonic, tired, or funny. Their whole album is up on Spotify. Check it out, dudes.

Music? What’s that? (a playlist)

Hey! We have a blog here. It’s been hard to keep track of, as one of us has been working 60+ hours a week and the other one is carrying a 1,000 pound baby and reading 50,000 books for school (guess who is who…). But don’t worry, we have been listening to all kinds of music. Well, mostly the same kinds. So many new albums have come out that we have yet to review (such as a surprise album from Wilco!); don’t worry, we will get to that sometime in the future. Probably. For now, I thought I’d pop in and share my summer playlist. In true Gibson fashion, it takes its name from the show Parks and Rec. On her way out of town with Ben Wyatt, April Ludgate finds an old mixtape called, “Benji’s Cool Times Summer Jamz,” which features classics such as “Shoop” by Salt n Pepa and “The Sign” by Ace of Base. You can find it here.

While mine isn’t near as cool or 90’s-centric, it still has some good songs on, songs I have been enjoying all summer. Enjoy.

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i love you and i like you (xtina’s song of the day).

Today is a pretty good day. In honor of certain historic decisions by certain courts that are the most supreme, I thought I’d share one of my favorite love songs.

I met ol’ ZG at the height of Bon Iver-mania. We probably really only listened to Bon Iver for the whole first summer we dated. We saw him play at Sasquatch that summer, and it was one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I know I tend toward the dramatic, particularly when it comes to music, but I’m not lying, I swear!

Anyway, my song of the day is Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank.” Did you know that this song is essentially a retelling of a Northern Exposure episode? Justin Vernon is the man. The song is so perfect and intimate and really captures that feeling of excitement you feel when you love someone (particularly with the line “It’s just like Christmas morning”). I try to avoid sappiness, so I typically post photos of Adam Scott (Ben Wyatt from Parks & Rec) instead of actual pictures of us together. But I’m happy today, and it’s okay to indulge in your happiness sometimes, I think.

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Also, I wanted to share an illustration by South Korean artist Puuung. This image, which is part of the artist’s Love Is series, features the best kind of small moments.

What is your favorite love song? What’s your favorite hate song? Please share! I love both kinds.

Coming Home by Leon Bridges (album review)

In Paste‘s review of Leon Bridges’ debut album Coming Home, they said:

There’s a reason why this music is coming back today. It makes you think. It makes you escape—from the workingman and woman blues, but also from the racist, extremist madness brewing in Charleston and around you when you can’t, by the grace of God, figure out how to stop it.

That is a sentiment I can get behind, and I think it is a good part of why I love this album so much. As much as I love listening to sad music and wallowing in self-pity, it is just as nice and gratifying to listen to something that makes you forget (without sacrificing your musical dignity, of course). It has a sing-a-long quality that lends to its appeal as an instant classic, but it isn’t pure saccharine pop. Much of Coming Home deals with heartbreak and its various causes: romantic relationships, being the odd one out, and a desire to please, an idea that comes across in both a gospel song like, “River” and a love song like “Brown Skin Girl.”

I will admit that I am not the most well-rounded music lover. I like many genres of music, but, for the most part, they could all fall under the umbrella genre of rock or alternative. However, I have been really enjoying the soul/R&B revival that has taken place in the last year or two. This is the kind of music that everybody likes.

Coming Home is full of the pleading, bouncing vocals, doo-wop style background vocals, and rhythmic guitar indicative of its predecessors, but it doesn’t feel like a rip-off. In fact, Leon Bridges is one of the most refreshing musicians I have heard in a while.

The album begins with the title track, a devoted love song that offers an “us against the world” vibe. With its relaxed harmonizing and accompanying guitar, it is a great way to ease into the album. However, any of the songs would work as the opening track; the album never loses steam. Bridges uses background singers the way they were meant to be used– as enhancements rather than embellishments, and with vocals as impressive as any of the best singers around.

It’s difficult to think about anything aside from how hot it is (102 degrees F), but Coming Home helps me cope.

This is one of the few albums I could recommend to everyone, and I would be sad if anyone missed out on this. Enjoy.

Matt Pond PA’s State of Gold (First Listen) & Emotions, Emotions

I know I tend to wax poetic over music in all its forms, and I devote much of this space to tales of crying while listening to it. I’m just an emotional person, I suppose. However, thanks to NPR, I feel less guilty about romanticizing my emotions.

Did you know that music has been scientifically proven to reduce physical (and emotional pain)? It’s true! NPR shared the story this morning, and you can read it here. According to pain specialist Dr. Lynn Webster, “[Music] can generate not only a focus and reduction in anxiety, but it can induce a feeling of euphoria,” he says. According to the author of the article, that euphoria is responsible for the reduction in pain. In fact, listening to music after a painful procedure can be equivalent to taking Advil or Tylenol. I can’t wait to bring in my Slayer CD when I have this baby.

In related news, Matt Pond PA’s newest album, State of Gold, is streaming over at NPR’s First Listen. I’ve only listened to it through a few times, but I love what I have heard so far. Pond’s voice is one of those that automatically evokes an emotional response for me, and it isn’t hampered in any way by the somewhat more electronically-leaning sounds of this album. I’ve been a huge fan of Matt Pond PA since meeting Zach, and I have yet to be disappointed. His lyrics are always the right amount of gut-wrenching, and he somehow manages to utilize the music in a way that enhances the emotions (Matt Pond, not Zach). Also, this album cover is incredible. I would recommend giving this a listen, and purchasing it when it comes out next week!

The Epic (Christina’s album of the day)

Hey, dudes. I’ve been lying around a lot lately, mostly reading and listening to music. Since it’s been so hot, I only want to listen to music that is calm– the kind of music that melds into the background and makes hot days feel a little easier.

One such album is Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. Washington played on Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album, so I was certain I would like this album before I ever heard it. The Epic is a sprawling, lively jazz album that feels perfect for the very hottest and laziest of hot and lazy days.

Listen, enjoy, and revel in doing nothing for at least a few minutes today.

Wires & Waves Reads: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I read my first Anne Tyler novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,  in the summer of 2010, after having been introduced to her by one of my greatest friends and one of my kindest professors. Her most recent novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, is her 20th, but she certainly isn’t fizzling out. This novel, like all of her others, centers around a family and the heartbreaks and stories that make it unique. Some might be turned off by such a description, but Tyler’s characters have an authenticity that is hard to come across when writing about such typical or mundane topics.

Tyler perfectly captures the American family without relying on stereotypes or predictability. Each character is nuanced and full of surprises, and this novel is no different. Abby Whitshank is painted as the loving matriarch of the family and, while that description fits, she is much more than that. She is adept at keeping secrets, though she is far from cruel. In fact, she’s the least cruel or selfish person in the family, but she isn’t perfect.

The novel begins with their distant son Denny calling to tell them he’s gay, with Red, the father, replying, “Oh, what the hell.” They don’t hear from him again for several months, though not from a lack of trying. Abby, a social worker, has always had a difficult time connecting with her own son, a man who left home at 18, returning home sporadically with news of a different job, always with a different girl. While the novel unfolds chronologically, Tyler indulges in many tangents regarding the family’s history. In this way, the reader is able to learn things about the Whitshank family that even Abby doesn’t know. As Red and Abby get older and more forgetful, their four children come together to take care of them. However, the four children don’t get along very well, so this makes things more tense around the house, a home built by Red’s father that is a character in its own right.

A Spool of Blue Thread is a comforting read, but it isn’t lighthearted or cheap. Reading Tyler’s books feels like seeing my best friends after months or years away. The fact that they are the same friends I had in high school and even middle school only makes our friendship stronger and more meaningful. Most importantly, those friendships, just as Tyler’s novels, are never boring or superficial.