Taming the Inner Caveman

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Whiteness as a Liability in Publication

I have several observations about the state of poetry publication in 2017, and I want to start by acknowledging the FACT that these practices are unfair in very clear terms.

 

  1. Being a man puts a poet at a clear disadvantage. Entire events are organized in favor of women writers. Entire magazines market their content upon sharing the work of female writers. Males have no such representation, at least not from what I have seen.
  2. Being a Caucasian also puts many poets in the bargain bin. Whiteness has almost begun to decay into a new sociological cliche. Even if the writing itself is not expressly dealing with whiteness as a concept, the lack of cultural markers and a poetic link to a minority tradition almost disqualifies aspiring poets from representation in many poetry magazines.
  3. Being heterosexual (mostly…I do believe in a spectrum) also locks out a great portion of verse from publication.

 

Now that I have those hard truths out of the way, let me explain why NONE of this bothers me.

 

What we are seeing can be described as a kind of discrimination in its simplest definition. But I accept these conditions as a necessity for a much needed CORRECTION in representation within literature and the arts in general. It is a positive movement that these subjects and writers should exist at a premium, while writers of mainstream views and identity should, by their very nature, experience a content filter.

 

As a poet, I have a few ways to respond to these “unfair” requirements. I can be a snowflake and complain about how the cards are stacked against me. I can become bitter and walk away from the field as a whole. Or I can man up and work to differentiate myself from other poets in new ways.

 

The latter is the most sane and genuine. It is a writer’s plight to struggle against an adverse field. Writing should not achieve acclaim due to a “fair” system. It must fight, fail, die and resurrect. The challenge itself should drive the writer forward in search for unblazed trails and views that transcend identity. The wall is a blessing. I have an obstacle to overcome.

 

I welcome my brothers and sisters in humanity who have suffered in the shadows and now emerge to a VALUATION in the free market of ideas. Thank you for making the world a better place. Thank you for your struggle. Thank you for demanding more of me.

Check out my poetry here!

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A Struggle with Tolerance

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As a Unitarian Universalist, I value tolerance of all brands. I consider diversity one of the great virtues of human society. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with the need for that diversity sometimes.

 

The facet of tolerance and acceptance that gives me the most mental trouble is religious diversity. Unitarian Universalism makes it very clear that we accept people of all faith backgrounds within our fold should they desire to be there. But as my kids grow and the world encroaches more and more upon my ability to shield and protect them from the views of religious dogmas, my stress levels balloon, and I find myself eyeing the members of other faiths suspiciously.

 

This has become especially poignant when missionaries of all types find their way to my door. I normally enjoy the company of these people. As an Atheist, I haven’t lost my interest in different religious customs and beliefs. Most of my life, I have prided myself on my comfortable rapport with peoples of other faiths. I can typically hold a conversation with other spiritual communities while maintaining peace and preserving my own views.

 

Now, I don’t really feel so welcoming. When a missionary comes to my door espousing the truth of Jesus in many contexts, I know that many of these people would encourage shunning family members should their sexual orientation or gender identity not match the strict code of conduct outlined by their God. It also seems that for many Churches in my area, this problem is getting worse, not better. The ones most likely to be evangelizing are also the groups most likely to hold an aggressive stance on these issues.

 

When I look them in the eye, when I accept their literature to certainly read in the Bathroom later, I am painfully aware of a lurking threat to my kids. The evangelical’s eyes in all their pleasant overtures and promises of salvation would box in my kids to a very dangerous standard. Shunning, shaming, condemnation, and isolation are weapons that don’t just change behavior. They kill. The suicide rate among transgender individuals alone attests to this truth.

 

How am I to feel when these evangelicals walk up to my door and offer me a gun that can kill my kids? How do I feel good will to them? Because as much as my emotions sour and I grimace inside, that is my only option.

For more writings on Unitarian Universalism and Religion, check out my book: Meditations on Bad Faith.

Open Letter to Millennial Unitarian Universalists

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Hey guys! Come on in. Have a seat. I have some free trade and antibiotic free Borscht on the stove. Oh! And help yourself to one of the Microbrew beers I have stacked up in the fridge. I think there is some Yellow Beetle Elephant Monkey in there. My cousin whipped that up from some clover honey and vanilla hopp extract.

Comfortable? Good. You should probably settle in because we need to talk.

 

Wait! Wait…I know I lured you in here with all that Millennial bait and our trust is probably kind of eroded. But trust me guys we really need to have a heart to heart.

 

First of all isn’t our church great? I mean, the Unitarian Universalists have embraced us with open arms and why shouldn’t they? We practically have been looking for this faith our whole lives! We got to invite our Pagan friends, our homosexual and transgendered buddies were welcomed, and even the atheists could just walk right in spouting their Dawkins & Hitchens crap and they were just…so cool with it man.

 

They are fantastic. And that’s why we need to have us a good old fashioned southern style “come to jesus” moment, because I don’t know if you are aware of this, but we walked into their house and we kind of took a dump on their floor. No, no…not literally, but just hear me out for a second. Many Unitarian Churches, especially here in the Southern United States, were comfortable with their demographics and spiritual demand. They had it good, stuff just stayed level in their worlds. They didn’t have to stress about massive changes coming their way. Their budgets were practically set in stone, old reliable geysers erupting at the same time and same way every year.

 

Well we came along and freaked out and have nearly burned their house down. You know what makes this even more painful? THEY HAVE BEEN SO DANG NICE ABOUT IT!!! They don’t really complain about us. Sure a good many of us bought kids and they were excited to see so many families influx. And they were also really happy that Nicodemus Ankali could come to their Open Mic Night and read his poetic moon goddess chants.

 

This would probably be much more tolerable if we weren’t broke as hell (by the way, surveys are in and we can totally blame our parents for how miserable we are. They ruined everything and they suck.) Point is we have brought with us a whole avalanche of new demands and stresses. So what do we do about it?

 

Well for one thing keep inviting your friends because as much as this transition has been both blessing and burden for Unitarian Universalist Churches, they really like us. And they kind of see us as a the future for the faith as disillusion with dominant faiths seems to only rise each year. But I can’t stress this enough, we need to come up with creative ways to ease the burden on the lovely people who occupied this denomination before we came along. Organize your own fundraisers. Volunteer for different functions (Religious Education needs cool people to help watch our bratty children). If you see those people who throw themselves into every function and you wonder where on earth they get the energy, OFFER TO HELP THEM. There is a good chance those people give 238 percent because no one else will do most of the irritating stuff you rely on them for.

 

And Nicholas no, they don’t really want to listen to your three hour seminar on Norwegian fart singing. They are just very nice and humoring you.  

Want to read more writings of faith and Unitarian Universalism? I got a whole book about it! Half of all proceeds help the church. I am also planning a Borscht/Gelatto social.

Embracing the magic of Uncertainty

While indulging in a little intellectual navel gazing, I flipped through the pages of Uncertainty by David Lindley. It’s a popular account of the development of Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. I am quite a sucker for cross disciplinary study even though I don’t usually have much practical use for Quantum Mechanics in the teaching of English.

In fact, I quoted Gore Vidal in his seemingly mocking evaluation of English teachers trying to mimic the genius of physicists and their “half erased theorems.”  This was in my chapter “Embracing a New World of Research” in the book The New Digital Scholar. I included this as a kind of decorative, tongue in cheek jab at my own complicated theories of language education.

A LOT has happened since then, and my once youthful, idiotic exhuberance for education has somewhat waned in the unending administrative tyrannies and countless wasted hours attempting to quantify assessments no one, and I mean NO ONE believes in. It’s rough out there. People want improved education and no one is getting it. Government and school leadership keep’s ratcheting up the standards, asking for more and more data, and meanwhile our workload increases and we STILL haven’t gotten standard of living raises since I began my career.

Jesus…

It’s hard enough trying to improve courses in the face of such overwhelming demands. Then Sir Ken Robinson comes along in a brilliant RSS Animates video and says “of course we should raise standards. Why would we ever lower them?”

Well yeah I get the idea. Sure…it’s an amazing video, but something about that quote above always bugged me. I would sit and think to myself their probably ARE situations where lowering standards could be appropriate.

My friend who teaches pre-k cleared this up for me. Our state is pushing more and more reading comprehension standards in Kindergarten. They have even gone so far to begin expecting Pre-K students to read. She sat in a coffee shop with me shaking her head, looked me in the eye and said

That’s not developmentally appropriate.

Oh…yeah that’s a real problem. There are situations where the state’s rising standards could cause problems and it may make a ton of sense to lower standards to a place that is managable for a child’s level. I would go so far as to say inappropriate developmental expectations could do real intellectual harm to a child. I’m a little surprised Ken didn’t consider that.

Now let’s jump back to my thumbing through Uncertainty to make a rather controversial comment on assessment and standardization. I recently heard the argument that successful schools don’t succeed because of high standards. Typically it’s despite them (I know I need a source here, nobody’s perfect). I took this a step forward and wondered if school’s success in our modern paradigm (love that word) in RESISTANCE to over standardization. As I thought more an more about the goal of standardized tests and course outcomes, I began to consider Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

It goes like this, and keep in mind I am no physicist. The more we know about an object’s speed, the less we know of it’s location. The more we know about an object’s location, the less we know about it’s speed. Now this is a crazy complicated idea with tons of implications, but our ability to measure momentum directly affects how precisely we can measure location. This kind of relates to the idea that observing something in quantum mechanics can alter its potential outcome, though that is a whole other pile of confusing flim flam.

We have been measuring a LOT of stuff in the last twenty years. We constantly attempt to drag education more and more to a certain ideal. Meanwhile things only seem to get worse. Could it be that the more we obsess over making all classrooms look the same, the less we are able to achieve innovation? Are those things related in a similar way to momentum and location?  The more we know about where we are limits our ability to determine where we should go?

Maybe we should allow for more school and instructor autonomy. Maybe central, standardized goals make the whole situation worse. It’s certainly an anarchic idea, but I have always been a proprietor of useful chaos.