Why Evicted? Portland’s popularity has lead to a housing crisis in the last few years. Home sales prices have shot up, making ownership even more out of reach for many. An influx of newcomers (some perhaps attracted by the Portlandia mythos, others escaping drought in California) has meant rental prices have become insane. A friend was renting an inner-SE basement apartment about ten years ago that was priced around $895 per month—while that seemed too expensive for me to sustainably afford at the time, a similar apartment might now go for $1300 or more.
Considering this environment I’m glad to own a house with no mortgage, although the condition is not that far from the housing described in Evicted. If my house ever becomes completely uninhabitable, it’s likely I’ll need to move to another part of the region. Or Tulsa—it always seems cost of living is reasonable in Tulsa.
The theory behind Everybody Reads is that if a community has one book they’re reading around the same time, it can spark connections among strangers and a larger public discourse. The library also uses the opportunity to schedule several related events—this year the author will be giving a lecture event in Portland and there are many opportunities for community members to participate in book discussions, learn about local renters rights, and participate in a poverty simulation.
It seems to me that this book is in some respects picking up where The Jungle left off, with the author writing in order to spur social change. That said, rather than creating a fictional account, Evicted was crafted after author Matthew Desmond conducted plenty of interviews and information gathering. A note in the front of the book points out that all the situations really happened, although names have been changed for anonymity.
And it’s a good thing, too. I’m only about halfway through the story and I already feel compelled to write a nastygram to one of the landlords in the book! If this is any recommendation, I promise you’ll feel so moved as well. Evicted does a great job of pulling the curtain back on a system that we should all engage in changing, in the name of human rights.
And last weekend, Representative John Lewis got another surprise when he returned to Nashville. There, in the place where he began his activism, he was presented with copies of his earliest arrest records that nobody had been able to locate previously.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about the next few years, puzzling over what actions I should be taking to stand up against hate. Representative Lewis had a thought that spoke to me. From the article:
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just,” he said, “you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to stand up, to speak up and speak out, and get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”
It’s a nice day indeed when you get a library notice that your desired book is waiting for you on the hold shelf, and two hours later you learn the same book has been shortlisted for the National Book Award!
Would March: Book Three live up to the hype? I was pretty stirred up by the end of the second book. As I saw it at the time either Book Two would be the height of the story arc, or they could make Book Three even more interesting and exciting. At the time, that didn’t seem possible.
But it was!
If you’re not familiar with the series, the March trilogy is a set of graphic novels based on the first-person experiences of Representative John Lewis (Georgia) during the Civil Rights era. He’s born to sharecropper parents in Alabama, and when he attends seminary school in Nashville he starts working with others on lunch counter sit-ins. He soon meets Martin Luther King, Jr., and cinches his place in the inner circle of the civil rights movement. He ends up in several scary situations, he is beaten and screamed at, but he never gives up his faith in the power non-violence and the civil rights struggle.
I had never read a first-person account of the movement in long form, and I also wasn’t very familiar with John Lewis before reading this series. (He recently made headlines with his sit-in for gun control.) What the series really gave me was a sense of detail about certain events that I hadn’t had before.
John Lewis spoke at the March on Washington, for example. This sequence during Book Two revealed much conversation that happened about Lewis’ speech in the hours before he gave it, with various organizations and representatives wanting him to take out certain phrases. Through the series, Lewis’ association with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) changes, from being a key member to being slightly at odds with the direction the organization was going in. The March on Washington seems to be a pivotal point in this relationship.
Book Three was the longest of the series, and dense with information. As I was reading it just a few weeks before a really important election, the sequence about Fannie Lou Hamer really spoke to me. If you are not familiar, blacks were attempting to register to vote in Alabama and encountering roadblocks galore, from ‘tests’ to jailing and harassment. Sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer testified on live television about her experiences trying to register to vote, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson was so threatened by what she might say that he invented a reason for a press conference so television stations would cut over to him. (Here’s her full testimony, much of which makes it into Book Three.)
To me, the LBJ episode says a lot about the importance of exercising one’s right to vote. People in this country have fought long and hard just to be able to vote! Don’t take the privilege lightly, friends.
Back to the book. Book Three starts honing in on activity in Selma, Alabama, and the serious voter suppression going on there. The climax of the book is a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, a symbolic march to present their case on the steps of the state capitol.
Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Selma, but the first outing doesn’t go too well. Participants have gathered from across the US, and they are met on the opposite side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge by a litany of cops and unsupportive citizens. It’s a bloodbath, and the nightly news broadcasts it across the US.
Perhaps you know what happens next, but Book Three is still a page-turner. This book in particular lends itself to a graphic novel treatment, and illustrator Nate Powell has done a fabulous job. Famous people depicted in the series may not be an exact likeness, but we know who they are—the action and emotion of the illustrative choices more than makes up for what I believe was a deliberate choice on the illustrator’s part. I really hope this does win the National Book Award.
In addition to learning a lot of details I didn’t already know about the civil rights movement, this book gave me a lot of hope. Reading it sparked my brain to meditate about voting, yes; but also how far we have come in the 50 years since the events in the book. We have societal woes today that are akin to those depicted in the series, but if there’s one big idea I took from the series, it’s that losing a battle doesn’t mean losing a war. Just keep marching on.
It was not my intention to go silent for a year. Things happened, I got busy. (I “only” read 17 books in 2015…can you believe?) Truth be told, I’m still busy—but things have been calming down for the year so here we are.
What could possibly have taken my attention away from Bookish?
Rain in the Forecast Shortly after Atticus died last year I gained a new charge—at least part time. Rain was (and is) a bit of a wild child, but I started writing about our work together last summer on Rain in the Forecast. It has been about a year since we first started working on her social graces, but she has come a long way since last fall.
CSA Season When you have a bundle of vegetables to use or lose each week for 23 weeks, making meals becomes an important part of your week. This is the third year I’ve split a CSA share with Steven. Each week we get our veggies from Zenger Farm and split them up. We both eat very well, but it means that cooking takes a high prominence in our daily lives.
Oregon Standoff/Bundy Trial Over the last several weeks I’ve been following the Oregon standoff trial really closely. A few weeks ago I even took a day off of work to go watch the trial in person! I could probably write a lengthy blog post about the trial alone. (And another blog post about the verdict…)
Yoga I’ve been going to yoga class from one to three times a week for the last few years. Over the last year it has become more of a challenge because my time has been more stretched overall and because I’ve had more flare-ups of an old injury this year. Turns out that yoga may have been causing that! So I’ve been adjusting as needed.
In February I took two workshops with Dana Falsetti and Jessamyn Stanley, who have become renowned for their radical idea that one needn’t be wafer thin to be a badass yogi. Jessamyn will be releasing her first book, Yoga for Every Body, next spring!
Friday Reads It’s a simple concept: take a photo of the book you’re reading on Friday and post it on social media. Inspired by Missoulian Chris LaTray, and my own desire to read more books this year than last, I’ve been posting Friday Reads photos on Instagram for a couple of months. I’ve already read one more book this year than last, and we still have a couple months left!
That’s more or less what has been taking up my time! Now that it’s winter I’m hoping to produce more work for Bookish. There might even be a new project or two in the works—more to come as time allows.
The reputation of Jon Krakauer’s Missoula preceded the book’s actual appearance in my hands. I had heard about the UM rape scandal when news outlets outside Missoula picked up the story. I had even heard about the book and hoped to read it. It wasn’t until late May when I received an email from an acquaintance that I started realizing just what a big deal this book was to my many friends and acquaintances in Montana.
The email was pretty innocuous, and it was sent to me in error. My acquaintance had been facilitating a copy of the book around her circle of friends, and she accidentally added me to the recipient list. We exchanged a couple more emails and she informed me that the book was “a big Montana topic right now.”
When I finally got my hands on a copy, another Missoula-area acquaintance expressed interest in knowing my thoughts once finished. Once reading, I started Googling names and uncovering the proliferation of public dialogue that happened over the previous few years.
One thing’s certain: this is an emotional book. Early chapters detail the incidents that set later action into motion, and they’re moving. We walk through each victim’s relationship to the police—deciding whether or not to even report the incident, and what happens if/when they do. We get to see how a community’s perception of a verdict may not reflect a full understanding of how the case was decided. Krakauer details how the academic discipline process is different than our larger criminal justice system, why that’s important and how it led to vastly different outcomes in some rape cases. After a court verdict that provides a climax to the book, further analysis is provided, including commentary from the US Department of Justice.
When I started reading, I felt hesitant because I didn’t want to think ill of Missoula. I still have friends there and still feel like it’s a home away from home. Having now read the book, I think I more fully realize the impact of the book on the community.
• It’s not pleasant to have a mirror held up to your community, especially by someone perceived as an outsider. (See also: Portlandia)
• It’s not pleasant to receive national attention for a negative thing. (See also: Mulugeta Seraw)
• It’s not pleasant to accept your hometown heroes are maybe just as human as everyone else. (See also: Portland Jailblazers)
Embarrassment aside, the book is entirely valid—not just for Missoula, but for other college towns, and hell, everywhere in the United States. What other crimes do we, as a society, tend to disbelieve when the victim reports the offense? So much that the majority of rapes, attempted rapes, and sexual assaults are never reported? Of the multiple rape victims I know, one victim chose to report it, and later described her reporting process as “a nightmare.”
Reports suggest that the Missoula Police Department, at least, has been making improvements to their process since the Department of Justice got involved. Negative attention can create positive change, and this speaks to the power of investigatory journalism such as early work by Gwen Florio at The Missoulian. Without her pieces, the story may never have been picked up nationally, and this book may never have been written.
Amigo Kitty still loves you, Missoula, and I do too. But we also love progress, and think that this book may have done Missoula a bigger favor than perhaps the community realizes.
On Saturday I had the immense fortune of attending Press Publish, an event organized by the staff at Automattic.
“What is Automattic?” you ask, because you didn’t click the link. In short, Automattic is the company that runs WordPress.com. (News flash: you’re looking at a WordPress.com site right now!)
Basking in the morning sun while walking to MAX, I quietly lamented that I’d be spending my day inside, sedentary, and largely unengaged.
Boy, was I mistaken.
The schedule was packed, ensuring there was something for everyone. Between hopping from room to room every 15-30 minutes, taking a breather in the Happiness Lounge, and marveling at the delectable food, my expectations were blown out of the water. I came away feeling energized, particularly excited to get back to the blog I run for work.
Here are a few of the reasons Press Publish was so great.
As a shirker of social events and “networking opportunities,” I didn’t expect to talk to anyone during the day beyond asking for basic assistance. This notion began melting when Ananda Leeke started her presentation with a round of group yoga breath and a moment without digital devices. A yoga practitioner myself, Ananda won my heart over instantly with this simple start. Toward the end of her presentation, she tossed out the following thought in response to an audience question:
The immense popularity of Facebook means that many people around me are currently learning the down side of the internet for the first time—the stuff I learned (the hard way!) back in around 1997. Ananda’s statement summed up my philosophy in a succinct way.
Meeting the Automattic Staff
At Portland WordPress meetups, I had heard that Automattic’s staff members live all over the place, and there were several Portlanders in the bunch. Press Publish gave me a chance to meet them.
Turns out, they’re really fabulous!
Press Publish gave attendees an opportunity to mix with staff from Portland and beyond, who were presenting material, providing individualized assistance in the Happiness Lounge, setting attendees up with their conference packets, and more. They invited people to contact them via Twitter or directly at their work email.
You can only retain so much new knowledge at a time. If you attend a class for a piece of software you’ve never used before, the knowledge you come away with will be at a more basic level than if you were to take the exact same class after you’ve been using the product for a couple of years. This is why I sometimes take classes that are below my skill level—so I can listen for details I didn’t know before, or just as a refresher on the basics.
At Press Publish I deliberately attended a couple of sessions about things I had experience doing, but I deepened my knowledge by going. In Sheri Bigelow’s class that walked through the WordPress dashboard, I learned the importance of setting a featured image even if it’s not used by your theme. (The only trouble: I frequently embed images via other sites, and featured images need to be on the server.) Watching a presentation about podcasting basics, I confirmed that I was using well-regarded plugins, and even one of the recommended microphones.
In addition to my personal WordPress.com use, part of my job involves running a self-hosted WordPress site. Our site started experiencing a very curious issue a couple of years ago. After consulting many sources and unsuccessfully trying fixes over many months, I was again at a dead end.
Cue the Automattic staff available for one-on-one assistance inside the Happiness Lounge. Carolyn Sonnek listened to my sob story and gave me new hope! Since the new things to try involve a site outage, I haven’t tried it quite yet—but I feel confident that I got solid advice from someone who knows the product and who I know I can reach out to if the problem remains unresolved.
I also got to give advice as well as receive it. At the end of Carolyn’s presentation about WordPress Stats and Jetpack, I asked a question and after the session, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked for my help. During that conversation, I got to draw upon knowledge of a detail I had learned just that morning, about how Facebook decides what information to pull from a WordPress post.
If all that wasn’t enough, I got to take a photo of a chandelier that looked like a giant jellyfish!
Press Publish is an excellent event for someone creating content and publishing work online. If you get a chance to attend one of these conferences, either in person in Phoenix or through the free live stream, do it. You never know what delightful surprises may be in store!