50 in 2017?

I know the year is halfway over, but I’m trying to read 50 books by the end of 2017. It’s a lofty goal, especially since I’ve only been able to read for fun since my thesis was done at the beginning of May, but I’m going to try! I have been updating my progress on Goodreads (follow me if you have an account!) but I am going to list the books I’ve read so far here, including the books that I am currently reading. The ones in bold are ones I highly recommend!

  1. Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks (Currently reading)
  2. Sula by Toni Morrison (that was my 3rd time reading it lol)
  3. Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer
  4. Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy
  5. In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
  6. Dubliners by James Joyce
  7. I Can’t Think Straight by Shamin Sharif
  8. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  9. All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
  10. Lunatic Fringe by Allison Moon
  11. I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings by Audre Lorde
  12. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
  13. Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
  14. The World Unseen by Shamin Sharif
  15. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
  16. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts
  17. The Asian American Movement by William Wei
  18. The January Children by Safia Elhillo
  19. Drown by Junot Diaz
  20. This Way to the Sugar by Hieu Minh Nguyen
  21. Mannish Tongues by jayy dodd
  22. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  23. The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois (currently reading)
  24. Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (currently reading)

Let me know if you have any recommendations!

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All About Love

Since finishing my thesis, I’ve been reading a lot for fun, and the most recent book I started is All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I only started it last night but it’s already changed my life and transformed the way I think about love.

It seems that pop culture is obsessed with (heterosexual/White/monogamous/romantic) love, yet it is often seen as something not worth academic study. In All About Love, hooks offers an insightful and powerfully personal academic treatment on love that urges us to rethink how we understand and practice love. hooks begins by writing about the problem that many of us grapple with: lovelessness. Many individuals fear that they will never experience love in their lives–usually romantic love, but sometimes familial or platonic as well. However, hooks argues that most people have a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is and that we are actually afraid to engage in real love, preferring less intimate forms of affection instead.

hooks uses a definition of love that explains it as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” By this definition, love and abuse are mutually exclusive, and love goes beyond mere affection or care. She also emphasizes that love is a choice and an act of deliberation (rather than a passive state, i.e., “falling in love”), and that we would all do well to understand love as a verb instead of a noun.

Love is not something that we are born knowing how to do: it takes practice. At 22 years old, I am still learning love, but I was lucky to have grown up with no shortage of love in my life. The love my parents showed me as a child and continue to show me today goes beyond mere care or affection. They always treated me as a full and autonomous person, even when I was very young, and this respect is one of the central components of love. I am grateful that I learned how to love from my parents, who modeled strong and healthy love with each other and with me.

I continued to learn about love in my first romantic relationship at 17, and in the >2 years we were together, we witnessed and encouraged each other’s growth at a formative time in our lives. Even though we were still just figuring out how to love, we built a deep, nourishing love together, and I still love this person very much. I have loved many people since, romantically and otherwise, and each time it has been unique and fulfilling and has contributed to my growth. And that’s what bell hooks believes defines love: when two people are invested in and contribute to each other’s emotional and spiritual growth.

Honestly, I don’t believe that there is much of a difference between loving someone and being “in love” with them, besides perhaps intensity of feeling. I am deeply in love with my friends and my family (biological and chosen) and my partner and myself. It makes me very uncomfortable that we are expected to value romantic love over all other kinds of love. Romantic love is beautiful and special, but so is the love I have for my friends and family. When I think about whom I want to spend the rest of my life with, it is Justice and Bhupali and Aathira and my parents who come to mind rather than a spouse or romantic partner.

In All About Love: New Visions, hooks writes that our insistence that love is something nebulous and undefinable prevents us from understanding and practicing real love, and makes us more willing to accept unhealthy relationships. She writes: “When we see love as a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge, and responsibility, we can work on developing these qualities or, if they are already a part of who we are, we can learn to extend them to ourselves.” I am still learning how to practice love, but I am blessed to have a very solid foundation of love to build upon.

When I choose to prioritize myself over capitalism, I am practicing love. When I write poetry, I am practicing love. When I nourish my body with food and sex and sleep, when I nourish my soul with art and conversation and knowledge, I am practicing love. When I celebrate myself and other queer/trans people of color, I am practicing love.

I hope you all continue to practice love as well.

An Interview with Cathy Linh Che

Cathy Linh Che is the author of the poetry collection, Split (Alice James Books), winner of the Kundiman Poetry Prize, the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the Best Poetry Book Award from the Association of Asian American Studies. A Vietnamese American poet from Los Angeles and Long Beach, CA, she received her BA from Reed College and her MFA from New York University.  A founding editor of the online journal Paperbag, she is Sierra Nevada College’s 2016–2017 Distinguished Visiting Professor and Writer in Residence.

I conducted this interview for my thesis, which explores the role of art in contemporary Asian American activism, but what Cathy said was so important and insightful that I wanted to share it with a larger audience and Cathy was gracious enough to allow me to do so.

[Content warning: sexual violence]

Ally: To start, can you talk about the common influences or themes in your writing?

Cathy: When I started writing, my main interest was to record my parents’ stories of the Vietnam War because I didn’t see their stories adequately represented in American poetry. I think that was something I wanted to capture for a long time. I thought poetry was the medium because I could present different snapshots of their lives, not only now, but while immigrating to the U.S. and the aftermath of that. Much of my interest in that was to define my past, my history, my identity, my connection to this place that had taken on some mythological significance but was also my history. It felt necessary for me to understand my past in order to understand my present. There was a strong sense of witnessing my parents’ trauma. My parents are storytellers, and I wanted to record their stories somewhere because I knew that there was a silence, a void that needed to be filled.

For a while I felt trapped in writing about my family, like I couldn’t write anything outside of that. When I moved to New York for my MFA, I discovered that I needed to write about my experiences of being sexually violated as a young person. I was in a new city for the first time, I was away from my family, I didn’t have a support system, and it felt very vulnerable. These stories and experiences were things I’d lived with for a long time and they occupied a strong part of my memory. They would come and cycle in my dreams, they influenced my relationships, they influenced my views of my own body and my views of men. I started writing about that alongside my parents’ stories, and back and forth there seemed to be some kind of conversation about the idea of trauma and the way that it is carried over time. Along the way, living in New York and trying to live this new life and dating, I also wrote a lot about heartbreak. Especially from this vantage point, there seemed to be conversation between all three of these things. Those were my only concerns for a while.

It’s taken me a long time after publishing my book to figure out what it is that I’m trying to write about. I’ve continued to write about heartbreak and there was a way that I felt trapped in that as well. I felt that I was writing the same poems, and I give myself permission to do that, but it wasn’t providing me with a certain degree of freshness.

There was a time when I was writing about erotic joy, the joys of sex, because I realized that writing only woundedness left unexplored territory and I needed to stretch myself. I think I’m in a phase where I’m stretching myself. For the first time in a long time, I’m writing more persona pieces. My project that I’ve been avoiding is writing about my parents’ stories of being extras in “Apocalypse Now” while they were in a refugee camp in the Philippines. For years I couldn’t figure out the form of it; I avoided it, I tried to force myself to interview my parents and record the interviews, I checked out books on film theory and avoided those.

I turned a corner this week. In my teaching, surprises can happen. In terms of influences, I love Lucille Clifton, Anne Carson, Jack Spicer, Sharon Olds…these are people I discovered in undergrad and again in my MFA program. In my poetry workshop, I ask students to present on these poets, and one of the students asked if she could present on Ai instead. Ai is not a poet I’ve read a lot about, so I said, “Of course,” and before the presentation I read a lot of her work. It’s frightening, it’s violent. It’s these dramatic monologues written from the perspective of murderers and rapists, primarily. I was trying to look online for other poems, but it was very dominant that these dramatic monologues were from those voices. As a result of this student choosing Ai, I asked her to write a persona poem. That was not something I felt I’ve ever done successfully, but when students do writing exercises, I write with them. So I wrote a persona poem from my mother’s perspective, and again, I wasn’t satisfied with it, but there was some kind of stretch that felt very useful. It was what I was craving. Even though writing persona is not new for most people, it was new for me. I was so emphatically interested in writing autobiographically and taking that up as something I could claim without being apologetic about it. There’s a stigma connected to writing confessional poetry, but I didn’t feel like I was giving over to that criticism by forcing myself to write outside of what I was truly interested in.

After I wrote my persona poem from the perspective of my mother, it felt like an interesting turn. I actually wrote a persona poem from the voice of Steven Yeun, who plays Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead, one of the only Asian characters on TV who is really round. It was unexpectedly a way for me to write about Asian American representation and media violence. It also felt like a good stretch because I write from my own voice in such a way that I felt embodied in this identity. I wasn’t shy about saying I am woman, I am Vietnamese American, my parents immigrated here, I come from war. But to write outside of that perspective broke something open that I felt needed to be broken open. It seems kind of basic, but sometimes you don’t need to do a big revolutionary thing to have change happen.

A: What has been the reception of your work? In particular, I’m interested in hearing what your parents think about your work since you write so much about their stories.

C: I was anticipating more pushback on my work, but I was also not anticipating anything. I didn’t know what to expect. Because I write so much for myself, I don’t think about exposing my work to other people until it’s out in the world or gets published. During the process of generating work I don’t typically concern myself with other people’s needs or opinions. I thought I was writing about my parents, but not writing to share with them. I grew up thinking that so much of my academic life was separate from my home life, and my creative pursuits also seemed separate, even as I was drawing from my home life. I didn’t see my parents as people who would be reading my work. On some level, it was because my parents are people who primarily speak and read in Vietnamese. It’s not like they can’t read and write and speak in English, it’s just that I wouldn’t say my mom is super proficient in English, and even though my dad is moderately proficient, 95% of his life is in Vietnamese, and for my mom it’s 98%. Because I write in English, I didn’t think it was something they would read or be interested in.

The first time I read in front of them was after the book came out. I don’t know how my dad received it, but my mom was very moved. She was moved that I was writing about her life and my grandmother’s life and the sense of loss in that. I noticed that she had my book propped against her bed as reading material at night.

My family understands that I am a poet, but it’s not something we talk about too much. There were only three comments that my dad made about poetry: he does brag to his friends that I have a book, and he also said, “You know, in Vietnam, the poems rhyme.”

The third thing he mentioned was while we were in an argument. He said he read one of my poems–I don’t know if he read it in English or Vietnamese, because one of my poems got translated into Vietnamese and was published in a pretty big newspaper in Vietnam, kind of like The New York Times. My friend told me it was a pretty big newspaper, but I didn’t think much about it until one day my cousin in Vietnam found it while just reading through the newspaper and sent it to my dad. My dad had a conversation with me about how my poetic imagination made more of something than it really was, which I was totally insulted by.

I think they see poetry as part of my identity now. They’re happy that I care about their lives, but so much of my book is about being sexually violated as a young person, and that’s a topic that has never come to the surface with them. With my brothers, I sent them the manuscript…they didn’t know any of this information either, and I didn’t even know if my brothers had been affected too. So when they read it, they were really supportive but they also felt guilty. They felt like they failed me by not protecting me. I can understand that feeling, but they were children at the time, so I never held it against my brothers, or even my parents. I feel like it’s very complicated. But they were ultimately very supportive and very angry and wanted to do things to my cousin.

By making these secrets come to life, it’s been a very integrating experience. What I mean is that the home life and the poetry life haven’t felt as separated anymore. My family is able to see me as a full and whole person. I remember my brother was like, “But you’re so normal.” He had this image of someone who was sexually abused as being completely fucked up, and the abuse being visible. It was stunning to him that it wasn’t visible to him.

Out in the world, I would say that the reception has also been very positive. People have come up to me to tell me that they have been moved in some way. At AWP, the literary conference, someone came up to me and said, “This poem is exactly my story.” She was very moved by that. I told the audience that a poem isn’t really finished until someone reads it or hears it, when there’s some kind of communication back and forth, so that was very meaningful to me.

A: What do you think is the role of art or writing in activism, Asian American activism in particular? Do you think that poetry can be activism?

C: I’ve never personally felt that art had to be geared towards activism. I feel like the artist can write whatever they choose to write. I think sometimes people are like, “Why are you writing about flowers when people are dying in the streets?” To me, writing about flowers isn’t necessarily erasure of the concerns of people dying in the streets. In our lives, we have to make room for beauty and contemplation; we have to make room for humor and complexity as much as we can. In difficult political moments, I leave a lot of space for those who don’t write about what is current. As intricate and complex as human beings are, we should have as many emotions and concerns in poetry as well.

That also doesn’t mean that poetry isn’t inherently political. Whatever position that you occupy in our socioeconomic structures still exists in poetry. Even the fact that I am writing in English is political, born of a history of U.S. empire and conquest. Beyond that, if I were to write in Vietnamese, the language as it’s written now was translated into a Romanized alphabet by missionaries. Missionary work is also a form of empire-building. Nobody writes outside of their context or time. The language that we have is a product of that.

There are many ways in which poetry is activist. Especially now, I believe in the power of narrative and storytelling, and that these shape thoughts. For example–I’m going to veer away from poetry for a second–having images in the media of Arab Americans in stereotypical roles shapes how people perceive them. Because the U.S. has such a dominant pulse and is such a dominant creator of worldwide media, it has a ripple effect. I was in Vietnam watching TV in my cousin’s home, and I remember there was some show with a queer character on television. I was thinking that my ten-year-old cousin in Vietnam, because somebody wrote a script in Los Angeles, was being exposed to people who are different from herself. Or not necessarily different, who knows? But there wasn’t that representation of queer folk sixty years ago. A person who is marginalized who speaks their truth or writes out their story with complexity…that to me is inherently an activist act, especially in this day, because of the way that the government seeks to flatten and erase the complexities of marginalized people.

Beyond that, I think that poems are able to provide mourning and philosophical understanding of the world. I think about Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen, and how it came out in a moment when the country on some level was just being made aware of police killings of Black and Brown bodies across the U.S. Over and over again, people will post one of her quotes that’s like, “Because White men cannot police their imaginations, Black men are dying.”

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My friend recently said, “Maybe this can be an age when one can reclaim the role of poet as activist, as truth-speaker.” I think about Audre Lorde as a poet or James Baldwin as a writer, these figures who touched upon deep truths about people. They are guiding lights generations later as well. These are acts that create change, not just now, but in the future when change also needs to happen.

A: What would you say to people of color and writers of color who are feeling powerless and discouraged in this political moment? Do you have words of wisdom?

C: I don’t know that I have any wisdom. I’m a person going through it myself and struggling to figure out what it means to be engaged and what it means to take care of myself. I’ve been asking other people, so I’ll leave other people’s advice. At AWP I went to a reading in which Lisa Lucas was the moderator, and she asked Valeria Luiselli, who is a Mexican fiction writer, “What is the response of art and art creation in this political moment?” And Valeria said, “I’ve heard that people are ingesting news and media in such a way that they don’t have the mental space to sit down and read a novel because they are so disturbed.” She said that we must find spaces within ourselves for quietude, away from all that noise, to be able to immerse yourself in the world of literature.

Literature provides alternatives and a way to imagine a more just and beautiful world. I think these spaces must necessarily be inside of us. The things we ingest have to be nourishing. We can’t just ingest all this poison. You have to ingest that which provides a restoration of complexity rather than an erasure of humanity. I don’t think that alone is enough, but I think it’s a lot.

I have a friend who has shut down most social media, and instead of keeping up with the daily onslaught of news, he just participates in actions like he calling his congresspeople. That’s one form of engagement that doesn’t feel only poisonous, it feels active.

Another thing that is really important is to create spaces of community care. For people who are marginalized, it is important to find a way to meet up with other people and eat together and be able to talk with one another. That also feels restorative. For instance, there’s a food club in L.A. that is majority people of color writers and artists who eat together on Wednesdays at a different mom-and-pop restaurant each week. The goal isn’t anything other than to eat together, but that feels like family and that creates units of support. That feels like nourishment. Part of that nourishment is also to be able to imagine change, to imagine a different world other than the one that is being shaped by the powers that be. Especially in these times, it is so easy to feel powerless, but eating together is powerful. And there isn’t a mandate to create art, but it is essential to recognize how important creating art can be.

Part of the goals I’ve had in writing is to look at places that are silent or missing and to go towards them. Fatimah Asghar did this by creating the “Brown Girls” web series. We need to ask, what are the lives around us that haven’t been represented, and how do we do it in a way that honors all the complexities of that life? We have so little representation in the media of Asian Americans, or just people of color having complex relationships, so that feels like an activist act. Creating something is active. Everything we do doesn’t only have to be reactive. It can be the creation of a community, the creation of a piece of art, the creation of your deep inner world that is filled with imagination of a more just world. All of these things might be useful ways for thinking about what to do in these times.

Read more about Cathy and her work at http://cathylinhche.com/

An Interview with Frantz Lexy

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Frantz Lexy is a lovely person and an amazing artist whose work will be in museums around the world before you know it. This is another interview that’s been sitting in my voice memos for quite a few months because I got so swamped with school and health issues last semester that my blog (and most other things) fell by the wayside. I’m very excited to share our interesting conversation several months later.

Ally: My first question for you is what has been fulfilling you lately?

Frantz: Painting and hanging out with friends.

A: How long have you been painting?

F: Close to two years.

A: What made you start?

F: So last year, there was a record-breaking snow and I was locked in the house. I figured, “Hey, might as well start doing something useful,” and that’s when I started painting.

A: What do you like about painting?

F: It’s very relaxing and therapeutic. I can process my anger, my joy, my frustrations. It’s a win-win for however I’m feeling.

A: Who or what are your main inspirations?

F: Nature is a big part of it. And Kanye West.

A: How does Kanye West inspire you?

F: He’s very egocentric, and I’m not egocentric, but I feel like to create art and to make things that are effective, you do have to have a certain amount of confidence. When I’m in my room and I have my headphones on and I’m painting, I want to put myself in that state of mind where I’m like, “I’m the shit. I’m better than everyone else and I’m going to do something amazing.” And of course I’m not gonna be screaming that to everyone because I only put that in my head so I can make something that’s good. I think Kanye West is a huge inspiration because he’s very talented. Not only because of his own art, but because I’ve always wanted to be versatile in what I do.

A: How has your art changed over the past two years?

F: I’ve been spending more time with each individual piece. It’s still changing a lot. I haven’t really been producing a specific style, so it’s been constantly changing ever since I started.

A: Do you feel like you’ve found your style?

F: No. I’ve found my style for now, but it’s probably going to evolve and change. Last night I was painting something and I was like, “Oh wow, this could be a brand new style.” I always try to evolve the style constantly.

A: Aside from nature, are there any themes that come up a lot in your art?

F: I try to mix things that have contradicting perspectives and piece them together. I’ve always wanted to create images of extreme poverty and extreme luxury. At one point I wanted to create a whole blog with images: on the left I’d have extreme poverty and on the right I’d have extreme luxury. You know, people coming out of their Mercedes and jewelry and all that. That’s kind of what I like about art in general, especially visual art. I don’t have to put any words to it. I feel like we’re visual creatures and we react to that more immediately. I would love to get to a point where I can make more political or social commentary in my art.

A: What kind of commentary?

F: Inequality. Religion. I was raised Catholic for the most part. Up to the age of 15, I went to an all boys’ school, so I have strong opinions about religion.

A: Are you religious?

F: I am not.

A: Do you believe in God?

F: Yes.

A: Do you believe in ghosts?

F: Depends on what you think a ghost is. I don’t think I believe in ghosts. No.

A: What are some of your favorite paintings that you’ve done and why?

F: I have a huge geometric painting that I did. I called it “Lucid Dreaming.” It was one of the very first large paintings that I’ve done, and I did it the night before school, when I stayed up until 3 in the morning working on it. What I like about that style is that I apply tape on the canvas and then the next day, I remove the tape, and the image is also something that’s new to me when I pull off the tape. I like that a lot because it’s very trippy. I like things that are trippy. It also has an abstract landscape in it. It is very abstract, but the image suggests a landscape, and with that geometric shape in there, it’s kind of how I see nature in my mind.

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A: How come you called it “Lucid Dreaming?” Can you lucid dream?

F: Yes I can. I used to a lot when I was a child. I’m very into dreams. I called that piece “Lucid Dreaming” because there’s a certain abstraction to it. It’s very unreal but also it’s very relatable.

A: How do your background and your life inform your art? Do you feel that your pieces are autobiographical or not really?

F: Some of them are. I have a few paintings of myself and friends and family. I try not to make them too much about my own personal life.

A: Why?

F: I don’t really like to talk about my personal life that much. Or if I do talk about myself in my paintings, it’s a bit more broad, and it can apply to other people as well.

A: Is that because you want your art to be more relatable, or because you don’t want people to know that much about you?

F: Well, I guess it would also go back to my motive for creating art. A lot of the art that I do is expressing why I appreciate nature. It’s sort of my way of paying homage to nature and saying how much I like it. I think nature itself is art. That’s how I see it. I try to capture that in my work. So I guess you could say it’s autobiographical.

A: In your opinion, what makes something good art?

F: I’m still trying to figure that out. I think good art should be provocative. I think someone should find aspects of themselves in it. I was in a gallery the other day and I saw this piece of art. I’m very much into clouds, and it was this huge abstract piece, but it had a cloud in it. And I was like, “Wow, this is so dope.” I met the artist’s wife and found out that the artist himself had passed away, and it was his wife that did the curation. I talked to her and she was telling me what he was like and what he was into. She was very friendly, and I thought it was sort of weird that I met this person through this one painting and how I related to it. I feel like someone being able to find themselves through your art even though you’re not there anymore…that’s why I create.

A: What are your goals for your art and for yourself as an artist?

F: I want to make a living out of art. I wouldn’t want to be known for making political art because when I do make political art, I want it to stand out. I feel like if something political comes from someone who’s not political, it would make people stop and say, “Wait a minute—if this guy’s talking about it, maybe we should listen.”

A: Is there such a thing as a person who’s not political? I don’t think you can exist as a person and not be political.

F: Well, if you see this bee painting, it’s not political at all. But while I was making it, I was watching this documentary about bees and how they’re disappearing, and how we’re destroying them.

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A: So it is political!

F: Yes, it is political. I would say so. But it’s not what we’d think of when we think of something that’s obviously political. I have a lot of ideas for politically charged, controversial paintings that I would want to make.

A: Like what?

F: Again, going back to religion, I want to make a painting of someone praying to an upside down cross in a church. I would also want to make a Renaissance-style painting of a black Jesus on a cross and having white people very expressively reaching out towards him. I would also want to make paintings of the president of the United States making a speech, and he would have a ski mask on his face.

A: Why?

F: Because politicians are the biggest crooks out there. I do have a lot to say, but if I make things like that, I kind want them to be unexpected. The long-term goal is to provoke people.

A: Provoke people to think about things, or to organize, or what?

F: To think about things. Most of the time I’m not really vocal with my political views, simply because if I’m going to be vocal about something, I’m gonna be very vocal. I like to say, “eff you” to the man, but that’s not really what I’m about. That’s part of what I do, but that’s not only what I want to do. There are always going to be bad things out there, but I want to create things in which people can find peace. I want them to look at my art and say, “Oh, this is pretty,” and they can forget about all the nonsense out there.

A: I feel like you’re kind of saying contradictory things and I’m confused.

F: I do want to make art that is political, but not a lot of it. I really like to make things that are aesthetically pleasing.

A: Is that not political too?

F: I don’t think so. If I paint a picture of the president wearing a ski mask, then it’s only political. But if I paint a bee, yes, it’s political, but it can be not political if someone else looks at it.

A: It’s about interpretation though. So even if you paint something and you don’t intend it to be political, it can still be political because of how people interpret it.

F: Yes. But if I paint an aquarium, even if my motivation for doing it is a want to preserve nature, if I bring it into a kindergarten, within that environment it’s not political at all. It’s just fun.

A: And that’s what you want to do?

F: That’s what I would want to do. It kind of goes back to Kanye West. When he was on television and said, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” it was kinda like woah! Where did that come from?

A: I mean, Kanye does have a history of being pretty outspoken.

F: Yeah, but I’m speaking about that particular moment. It was like, where did that come from? I want to get to the point where I’m making a bunch of little landscapes with rainbows and everything, but I want to be able to drop a painting of someone praying to an upside down cross so people will be like, “Woah.” Whereas if people are used to seeing something that’s controversial, it won’t really provoke them as much, I feel.

A: I guess within the context of your work, that’s true, but in the context of art as a whole, I don’t think that’s true.

F: With art, who the art comes from is part of how effective it is.

A: How does that relate to your art?

F: If I’m not known to be a political painter and I do make something that is political, then the fact that political art is coming from someone who’s not political…I feel like that in itself is a statement, and that plays in the minds of people looking at the art.

A: Do you do any other creative things besides painting and drawing?

F: I write sometimes, although I used to write more often. And believe it or not, I think I make art on my snapchat account. Video art. I think it’s performance art.

A: How is that, and your writing, similar or different from painting?

F: I think they’re similar because I like to make things that are weird. Also I like to put things together that are contradictory. With my writings and my videos, I like to have a certain amount of innocence and something childlike to it.

A: Really?

F: Yeah.

A: I feel like it’s not that innocent.

F: Sometimes it is. Like with the aquarium painting and the bee painting, it’s a lot of flowers and birds and whatnot. I try to create things that are innocent. I have this little fairytale story about a little bird named Exodus, and it was very innocent. “Once upon a time, there was a little bird named Exodus who lives in the jungle.” But it ended very bloody and messed up. So I like to make things that are contradictory, so in that way, they’re similar. The difference…I don’t think I’m that good of a writer.

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A: What makes good writing?

F: Well, first of all, I don’t know a lot of words. I’m not great at communicating with words. I can be sometimes, but it’s not really my strong point.

A: Do you find that expressing yourself through painting or images is easier?

F: Yes. I feel like videos, too, going back to snapchat…

A: What kind of videos do you make on snapchat?

F: Weird. Funny sometimes, but for the most part I try to confuse people so they’ll think, “Is this guy innocent or not?” And even sometimes with my views on religion…if you look at my snapchat, I always post pictures of Jesus on the cross when I go by it downtown, and I try to make it very ambiguous as to what my position is on religion. The statue is green, but sometimes I say, “Hey, this statue is inaccurate because Jesus is a white man with blue eyes and blond hair.”

A: What impact do you think your art has on other people?

F: I hope that I’ve inspired some people, maybe not in a major way, but I’d like to inspire people to do something creative, or just do something. Like Shia Laboeuf said, “Just do it.” Painting was something I always wanted to do, but I just kept pushing it back. But then one day, I just decided to start. Not everyone likes it, but there are a lot of people who like some of my art. I like being able to put something out there and having someone say, “Oh wow, I like this.” I don’t know how much value that has for them, but for them to see something they like, and for me to find pleasure in creating it…I think it’s a win-win situation.

A: What else makes you happy?

F: Listening to music, and white puffy clouds. I know it sounds weird but I’m very much into that.

A: What do you like about them?

F: Clouds never look the same. They’re always different, with the texture of the sky and their position. I feel like it’s God himself making abstract art in the sky, and it’s cool to look at.

You can check out Frantz’s art on instagram @ominous.cloud, or on display at 290 Congress St. in Boston until April 1st. 

Poems that Destroyed Me in 2016

2016 was a shitty year in almost every way. However, its saving graces were the amazing music and poetry that was created this year. Here are some of the poems that sustained and nourished me in 2016, that broke me apart and put me back together again. Read these amazing poems and be prepared to cry and get inspired.

  1. Some Girls Survive on Their Sorcery Alone” by Thiahera Nurse
    • I think I’ve read this poem at least once a day since it was published. There’s not much I can say about it that will do its magic justice, so I will let the poem speak for itself.
  2. Turing Test” by Franny Choi
    • Franny Choi’s poetry is always arresting and provocative, and this poem is no different. Here, she interrogates what it means to be human and to be conscious in a poem that reads as a striking manifesto: “i am part machine / part starfish / part citrus / part girl / part poltergeist / i rage & all you see / is broken glass”.
  3. ancient parts of you will be summoned by some freaky nasty beat sometimes” by Amaris Diaz
    • This poem is intensely powerful, and Diaz chooses each word with deliberation. If someone asked me my religious beliefs, I would probably send them this poem in response.
  4. 陰陽人” by Kaitlin Pang
    • This poem deals with the painful intersections of gender and diaspora in a way that hits close to home for many queer Asian Americans like myself. “my gender still loves ma / even if she does not love it back / even if she does not have the words for it / I don’t always have the words for it either”.
  5. america” by Fatimah Asghar
    • In the current frightening political climate, this poem is more relevant than ever. Asghar’s appeal to America, the country that has orphaned and then turned its back on her, echoes the hurt and fear that many marginalized people are feeling now.
  6. How to Forgive 100 Years after a War” by Jess X. Snow
    • This poem is another one I’ve read over and over again since it was published at the beginning of this year. With haunting clarity, Jess addresses how love and intimacy are complicated by legacies of colonization and trauma.
  7. Baptism” by Luther Hughes
    • If ghosts can inhabit words, there are definitely ghosts living in this poem. Each line is heavy with pain and desire, and this poem will weigh on you long after you’ve read it. “there is such a thing as forgiveness, / and it is the water, here, / engulfing my waist. my hands up, / smother this blackness, lord, / and remove this flesh.”
  8. Black Philosophy #3” by jayy dodd
    • What does it mean to be Black and have a body in a world that is trying to smother and extinguish Blackness? Although this poem is about death, it also contains light and life.

An Interview with Georgie Du

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Content Warning: mentions of abuse and racial fetishization.

Georgie Du is hands down one of my favorite people at Wellesley College, although those who have seen our interactions (which mainly consist of us yelling “Fight me!” and “I hate you!” back and forth) may not believe that. Georgie is a junior at Wellesley College, a Cinema & Media Studies major, an intern at Cambridge Community Television, my little sibling, and an all-around wonderful bean. I knew early on that I wanted to interview and write a blog post about her, so I interviewed her on October 23rd. Unfortunately, the very next day I got a concussion that plagued me for the next month, so this interview (as well as several others) continued to sit in the voice memos section of my phone until now. I’m excited to finally be able to share my conversation with the illustrious Georgie Du with the world.

Ally: What has been fulfilling your soul lately?

Georgie: I don’t know! I can’t think of anything specific, just stability in general. I feel like a mentally and emotionally stable bean right now, like with the stuff I’m doing.

A: What kind of stuff are you doing?

G: I’m really involved with WZLY on campus; I take care of lots of baby interns: 70 right now, mostly first years who are all very eager. I’m also starting to be involved with BoobTube (Wellesley College Television). I’m helping make that good content. So that’s two things that I do. But I do other things.

A: What other things?

G: I have an internship at Cambridge Community Television where I used to just help people, which was cool but not what I wanted to be doing. Now I’m a production intern. I’m going to hopefully help film and edit and also be on camera sometimes, just doing TV production in general, which is kind of what I want to do with my life. Over the summer I was a reporter for a news radio show and I really liked that, but I don’t know if I’m interested in news. I don’t think of myself as a very #cultured or knowledgable person about the world’s happenings and politics, but my parents really want me to be a news anchor, which really just involves reading from a teleprompter, which I could do! But I don’t know. Working in television would be cool. I think I just have to get more experience before I figure out what I want to do.

A: Can you tell me about some of the films you’ve made in the past?

G: In the spring of my first year, I was in an intro to video production class, and I made a film called “Fever,” which was a narrative film about a Chinese-American girl, played by me, who is dating this white boy. They’ve been dating for a month or two and it seems like an okay relationship, but then he says that he has a thing for Asian girls, and that he has dated a number of Asian girls before. She doesn’t really know what to make of it, so she calls up two of her white friends but they’re not really sympathetic because they don’t understand what the problem is. She talks to her boyfriend about it and they kind of argue, and he doesn’t understand why this would bother her. I’m just spoiling the entire plot but it’s fine–this is an old film. It ultimately ends with him saying, “If this bothers you so much, what are you going to do, break up with me?” And then she opens her mouth to speak and that’s when the film ends.

A: Ooh, ambiguous ending!

G: In a perfect world, I would want her to be like, “Yes, in fact, I am going to break up with you because you’re terrible!” But first of all, I didn’t know how to end that gracefully. And also, that’s not the reality of things. This was kind of based on my own experiences with that kind of stuff. That exact narrative never happened to me, but I have been in relationships or situations where white men have fetishized me and it’s been weird. I’ve had this 30-second thought process that is like, what the entire film is, and just ultimately been like, “Nah, it’s fine.” And I just tried not to think about it because I didn’t think it was a big deal, or I tried to take it as a compliment.

A: If you were in that girl’s situation now, would you react differently than you would have in the past?

G: Yeah, definitely. I guess since coming to Wellesley, I’ve thought and learned a lot more, and now I feel that if I were in that situation, I would for sure be like, “No way! I’m not taking any shit and I’m not wasting my time.”

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A: What was it like to make that film, especially working with your white friends and your white partner?

G: It was good, honestly. The guy who played the racist boyfriend was actually my boyfriend. When I asked him to be in the film, we had only been dating for a month, so it was interesting to ask so much of him when I’d barely known him for that long. I don’t want to say it was a test for him, but I guess making the film was also ensuring that he fully understood my feelings on it, and that he knew not to think or do anything like that.  When I first met him, I texted you, and you were like, “Oh, tell me about the boy,” and I was like, “Yeah, he seems okay but I’m just waiting for him to say something racist,” because that’s just the reality of the situation.

A: Yeah, you have to kind of assume that they’re going to fuck up.

G: Exactly. It’s sad, but it’s true. But yeah, I think it was a very positive experience. I had a fun time. Mike had never acted before, but I think he ended up doing fine.

A: Yeah, he was convincing. I was like, “Wow, I hate this guy!”

G: Exactly, that was my goal.

A: And that was before I even met him, so that was my only real impression of him.

G: It’s hilarious because he’s just a bean in real life. In the film, his character has to call me a bitch. I would run lines with him, and he just couldn’t do it in a way that felt good for him. I’d just be like, “Call me a bitch!” and he was like, “Ahhh!” Which I guess was a good sign, because if he was super eager about it that’d be a really uncomfortable red flag.

A: Do you plan to make more films like “Fever”?

G: I really liked that film. I think I maybe watched it too many times, or thought about it too much, because it was the first film I made. I think I really downplay how good it is because I think, “If I made it now, I could make it better.” I do want to make more films about what’s personal and important to me. Now I’m in intermediate video production, and one assignment was to make a self-portrait. I compiled a lot of videos of me when I was really tiny, and I talked about my parents’ history of immigrating to the U.S., and how I’ve dealt with that as a Chinese-American balancing those two cultures. That was really nice and it came out really well. I put it on facebook and I think around 100 people liked it.

A: I angry’d it.

G: But that’s typical. I don’t even think about it anymore. Nothing can hurt me now! It’s fine! But yeah, at least three or four people I’m not even really close with came up to me in real life and told me, “That was really important to me!” I know one person was like, “I tried to watch it multiple times but I had to stop because I was getting too emotional.” I’m really glad it touched some people, because I was really worried about making a film about myself and not having it be relatable. Not that you have to make your content relatable, but I’m glad it touched some people’s bean hearts.

A: Do you have any ideas for future film projects you’ve been thinking about?

G: Yes! In fact, tomorrow I have to talk to my intermediate video production class and meet with my professor to talk about what I want to make for my final, which has to be a documentary. I’m balancing a number of different ideas right now. I could extend my self-portrait and talk a lot more about my parents’ story, because in the self-portrait video I made, it was three minutes long. I had to leave out all these really cool details about my parents and their amazing love story. It would just be hard because I can’t interview them since they’re in California, so I don’t know how I’d do that. I was also thinking about making a film about emotional abuse, because that’s something I’ve personally experienced, and I feel like I’m in the right headspace to do that now. But I also don’t know what form that would take. Some people might be doubtful of the concept or unwilling to see it because they think it’s just like a sob story. And I made it clear in class when I initially proposed it last week that I wouldn’t want to make it a sob story. I would want to make it kind of empowering, because if anyone knows me, they know that when I’m talking about the abuse I’ve personally experienced, I’m not super bummed about it. I mean, I’m upset that it happened, but I can talk about it and joke about and talk about my abuser and joke about how terrible he is.*

 

A: What else is bringing you joy lately?

G: I’m disgusting and the first thing I thought of was my boyfriend, Mike, who was previously mentioned because he was in my film “Fever” playing a racist. I have been dating him for almost one year and seven months, which is very long.

A: Is that the longest relationship you’ve had?

G: Yes! When I think of it, I have to remind myself that it hasn’t been two years, because it feels like two years for some reason. Also, we bought concert tickets for our second anniversary, so it feels like we’re already there.

A: When you start making plans with your partner for several months in advance, that’s how you know it’s real.

G: Exactly. And even further than that, my parents are visiting for fall break in October 2017, and they told me this over the summer. And literally over the summer, I was like, “Mike, do you wanna get dinner with me and my parents in October 2017?” He was like, “I’m down.” And if we get to that point (which I hope we will), that would be around our two and a half year anniversary, which is so weird! Mike is a good bean. He makes me happy. He’s just a bean boy.

A: Tell me about a nice memory you have with him!

G: I think the nicest memory is always our first date. It’s really disgusting. I’m going to start with how we actually met because that’s kind of a weird thing. So we met on tinder, and we matched sometime in February. We were chatting for a while and I asked for his facebook and snapchat, and I got that. He was like, “I have really great snapchat game so watch out!” And I was like, “Alright, buddy,” but we never snapchatted each other. I guess we both ghosted each other for a while. I was not over my abuser at this point, so I guess I was kind of being unfair to Mike. So, March 6th was a Friday. It was first year formal. I went with my friends and it was a good time, and we didn’t have dates, but lots of other people had dates. I was like, bitter about it. I was like, “I don’t want to be single! I also want to be dating. I want to be that annoying person who brings a man to Wellesley!” So on the way home I snapchatted Mike for the first time in weeks, being like, “Hey, how’re you doing!” It was terrible. Later he told me he thought I was drunk when I sent that, because why else? Then we chatted for a little bit. The next day was March 7th, a Saturday. I was in Harvard Square. At this point in my Wellesley journey, I never went to the city. I liked staying on campus and being sad. But I was in Harvard Square to film something for a project, and I was snapchatting Mike and I saw he was on the T, so I asked where he was going. He said he was going to Cambridge, and I was like, “That’s so weird, I’m in Cambridge right now!” In that moment, I was like, “Fuck it!” so I said, “Hey, I’m in Harvard Square if you’re free and you want to meet up after I finish filming this thing in 20 minutes.” So we met up in the Starbucks in Harvard Square and we stayed there for hours talking. By the end of those few hours, we already had ten inside jokes, which is ridiculous and I hate it! Then I think he literally said the words, “Do you wanna go back to my place?” But he didn’t mean it like that, he just meant going back to Northeastern. My friend Cam goes to Northeastern and I hadn’t seen him in a while, so I was like, “While we’re there, I wanna see my friend, so let’s meet up with Cam and his boyfriend.” So I ended up having dinner with Mike and Cam and Cam’s boyfriend, which was nice actually, because I could be natural in front of Cam, like a normal person, and Mike could also be there seeing me as a normal person. And that was my entire day! It was a nice memory because I think it’s funny how we were super polite when we first met, and then we started being weird and making all these jokes. Like I said “4:20 blaze it” when it was 4:20 PM and he lost his shit.

A: Amazing! Well, I think we should wrap this up because this interview is already 30 minutes long. I love you!

G: I love you!

*Note: For her final project, Georgie ended up doing a documentary examining four different college students’ rooms and what one can tell about a person by the space they inhabit. This documentary, called “Nail in the Wall,” premiered on November 17th.

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An Interview with Marissa Klee-Peregon

Recently, I have decided to write a series of blog posts showcasing some of the interesting people in my life. I will be periodically posting interviews with my friends where we talk about the dope stuff they’re doing. If you’re interested in being interviewed, hit me up!

When I got this idea, one of the first people I knew I wanted to write about was Marissa Klee-Peregon, a lovely being who graduated from Wellesley in 2016 and who also happens to be my adopted big sibling. Marissa is one of the most thoughtful people I know, one of the only people who truly understands my love of the ocean and the moon, and an incredible artist. When she recently visited Wellesley from Kalamazoo, she kindly agreed to answer my questions and we had a dope conversation about art, bodies, spaces, light, and more.

[Interview edited for length and clarity.]

Ally: To start, what are you excited about?

Marissa: Next year I’m going to travel. I’m excited about that.

A: Do you know where you want to travel?

M: The number one place I want to go to is Istanbul; I want to see the Hagia Sophia.

A: What do you like about the Hagia Sophia?

M: Light. It’s just, like, expansive and light. My understanding of it is that its effect is to create the feeling that you are in heavenly Jerusalem, right? And it does that through these glittery reflective mosaics, and something about the way the marble looks, and big, huge domes. Looking at the pictures makes me feel a lifted sort of sensation and I want to feel it in real life.

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A: Is it a religious or spiritual thing for you?

M: Definitely, yeah. I’m interested in spaces of worship–well, the architecture of them–and I think I have a sort of spiritual experience in them even though I’m not religious. I made a tweet about this that still sums up my feelings about religion perfectly, and it was: “I don’t know if I believe in god, but I sure believe in light.”

A: In your own artwork, do you do a lot with light?

M: No, I don’t. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve done some in the past, but I’m really interested right now in how light is painted in paintings and how it hits buildings, and light defining forms. I think what I’m painting next is going to deal with that, but that’s a different sort of way of dealing with light.

A: What themes do come up in your art a lot?

M: Space and bodies.

A: Like, together? Or separately?

M: The way I’m thinking of it right now is space as the absence of the body, or like empty spaces. So absence and presence, maybe: space as absence and body as presence. I don’t know if I’m going to continue thinking about it, but yeah.

A: Is there a reason why you’re interested in those themes in particular?

M: I don’t know. I have been making art about bodies for longer than I’ve realized even, and sometimes I look at my art now and I’m like, “Holy shit–this is super connected to the angsty art I was making in high school, in a sort of ‘art about bodies’ thread.” But it sometimes surprises me that I’m still interested in making art about bodies.

A: Who or what are your biggest influences in art-making?

M: Hmm, I don’t know! I feel like the things that have shaped my art-making practice most were my painting class last semester–my classmates and my professor were very much influential. Artists that I’ve looked at in the past and been very into are Magritte, Michael Borremans, some other people who I’m forgetting right now. But I don’t know what their relationship is to what I’m currently working on, if that makes sense.

A: What are you currently working on?

M: I don’t know! Well, no. I’m currently working on two separate projects of paintings. One is bodies, or presence, and one is space, or absence. But the bodies are actually absence too, because it’s my pillow paintings. The one I’m working on now has a figure in it, but I’m very interested in making paintings without figures, or like paintings about bodies without bodies in them, where the pillow becomes the body. Can I make a sensual painting without a figure in it? Can I make a sexy painting about a pillow? So that’s one thing.
And then I’ve been looking at weird empty spaces and taking pictures of them. Like there’s this facade of an old building in Kalamazoo on Western Michigan University’s campus that used to be a normal building, but now it’s just a front and side facade. And it’s super thick, and it has these empty, gaping windows. It’s bizarre and eerie. So I’ve taken pictures of that, and then some other spaces that maybe echo spaces of windows, maybe there’s a connection to the apse, or arches…I’m trying to figure that out.
Also, I don’t know if this is exactly the same thing, but I was in Detroit a couple weeks ago and I saw a couple of buildings where the windows were not just boarded over, but had windowpanes painted onto the boards, which I hadn’t seen before and which was really interesting to me. It’s eerie. I’m interested in empty windows and arches formally, in terms of the shape, but I’m also interested in semiotics in architecture.

Did you know that there’s a word for elements of architecture that are completely useless but are maintained? Some artist whose name I don’t remember, but he’s Japanese, coined the term, and it’s “Tomason,” after an American baseball player, [Gary] Thomasson, who was great until he was transferred to a team in Tokyo and did not hit a single ball for the entire two years he was there, but was still paid. He was paid to sit on the bench. So he was maintained, but useless, like these elements of architecture. I’m interested in those elements, but I’m not interested so much in the fact that they are maintained, but the traces of what was there. I’m also interested in places where art used to be. You learn where the spolia was moved to, but not about where it came from. Something is happening with all that, but I don’t know what it all is yet.

A: Since you talked a lot about space, how do you feel about museums?

M: I think that as soon as a museum does something, it kills it. They are wielders of power, but I also think they’re important. It’s probably good to imagine alternatives, but I like to go to them. I like to look at things in them. I pay a lot of attention to my experience in the museum, like the people around me, the space, and if I’m too hot or whatever, in addition to what I’m looking at, and for a long time I thought it was part of the experience. But the other day I was in the Harvard Art Museum, and I was like, “Maybe I’m just making excuses for not being able to concentrate by saying it’s part of the experience.” But I don’t think that’s really true. I think museums are interesting institutions that wield power in an often problematic way, but also give you the opportunity to see some cool shit.

A: Last question: what makes you happy?

M: Painting! Also, dancing, music, and talking to my friends.

You can find Marissa on Instagram @seasmth