He Said, She Said: Deets and Geets December 2021 Newsletter

Welcome to the last edition of the Deets and Geets Newsletter, “He Said, She Said,” of 2021. Below, check out our commentary on movies, shows, and music we’ve been into this month, all broken down by platform.  

On a side note, the last two years have held both moments of stress and bliss and everything in between, often in new and unexpected ways. We’ve tried to bring levity and insight to you all in the process of living our best lives under the circumstances—hopefully, we’ve succeeded. At any rate, we hope to see you in 2022 with a revamped show (we’re always thinking of ways to make the show more fabulous) and new content.  

Happy New Year and stay safe! 

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

Jai Bhim

He said: Jai Bhim is a 2021 Tamil-language legal drama based on a true incident fought by Justice K. Chandru against police brutality / casteism in the early 90s. While a hard watch due to the brutal reenactments of torture/interrogation and overall inhuman treatment of tribal people by the police and townsfolk, the film succeeds in bringing the characters and their respective struggles to life. The rock music over slow-motion displays of Chandru swagger seems out of place given the gravity of the events portrayed, as does the peculiar make-up used to darken the skin of Senngeni (Lijomol Jose). Why not find an actor with that skin tone? We raised this question about a character in Sacred Games 2. Brownface never looks natural.

She Said: Based on a true 1993 incident and court proceeding, Tamil film Jai Bhim is a legal drama about a tribal woman’s struggle for justice as she searches for her missing husband after he was wrongfully imprisoned and tortured in police custody.  The title is a slogan used by followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, an anti-caste Dalit lawyer and writer of the Indian constitution.  Some of the scenes of graphic violence by police against the tribal people could have been toned down; I think even without them, the film is powerful and effective in showing the myriad odds that are stacked against tribal and caste-oppressed people in India.

AMERICAN INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2021

He Said: Technically, this was in November, but it’s worth breaking the rules to mention. So, last year’s virtual American Indian Film Festival (AIFF) selection was awesome, but the rollout was a bust—not only did you have to pay anywhere from a couple of bucks to over ten for each movie or a bundle of movies (usually two short films), but you had to contend with constant buffering, even on different devices. One film I really joyed was a documentary titled Crow Country about food sovereignty on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Highly recommended for being a good doc, but also because one of my friends is in it. This year’s AIFF had an equally good selection AND the streaming platform worked without issue. Pricing was still a drag. I get that providing content virtually means less return on investment for filmmakers, cast, and crew, but increasing the price per film means most people won’t be able to watch as nearly as many films as provided by the in-theater pricing model. That said, the standout film for us this year was Beans, which focuses on twelve-year-old Beans (the nickname of the titular character, Tekehentahkwa). The film is a coming-of-age story during the Kanehsatake Resistance, also known as the Oka Crisis, the spirited Indigenous protest against construction of a golf course on sacred Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) land near the town on Oka, Canada in the summer of 1990. The film uses news footage from the period, which helps to transport viewers into this tumultuous time. Solid acting from all players, especially rising stars Kiawentiio Tarbell, Paulina Alexis, and D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, also helps to bring the story to life.

She Said nothing. 

APPLE TV+

Invasion

He Said: Slow start to an intense show. I’ve seen six episodes at the time of this writing and am not totally sold on the multiple story lines / perspectives aspect of the series—especially when one family feels central to the show and its struggles provide the bulk of the tension at this point—but I’m enjoying it more as it progresses. Yes, this is about an alien invasion, but the essence is more on how an alien invasion affects people rather than how it infects people. 

She said nothing. 

Disney+

Hawkeye

He Said: I’m all about archers, but something about Hawkeye’s character never excited me. I’ve always thought him capable, but not exciting. That said, Disney Plus has been rocking each and every Marvel series it’s created and this one is no exception. Although more of vehicle to introduce Kate Bishop to the Marvel cinematic universe, the show also does well to explore Hawkeye’s lore and his weariness of superhero life given the last ten years of fighting and loss. A light, fun holiday entry, though, don’t let the Disney label fool you—parental guidance is advised.  

She Said: I only knew of Hailee Steinfeld as the “wonder, what if, let’s try” singer from Sesame Street, so it was fun to see her as Hawkeye’s archery protégée in this short, action-packed Disney-Marvel series.  I’m not enough of a nerd to know or research the extent to which the connections have all been predetermined in the comics, but it’s amazing that just in 2021, there have been four series that fleshed out and built out the storylines from Endgame for a set-up of the next generation of superheroes.  Disney knows how to keep our attention! 

GOOGLE STADIA

Cyberpunk 2077

He Said: We rarely talk video games, but I’ve gotten hip to the Google Stadia during the pandemic, and a bit of Cyberpunk 2077 this month. You may have heard of this game in the news last year for being the Fyre Festival of videogames. Before the days of hotfixes and hefty patches, missteps of this nature would have spelled doom for a title. Fortunately, the developers have taken the year to regroup and “fun up” the game. Yes, to “fun up” something is a thing. While the game isn’t the massive living city with superior combat and graphics hyped in the initial adverts, it succeeds in world building and storytelling with the help of a side-character played by Keanu Reeves. With a good internet connection, the Stadia version is superior in visuals and performance to the as Xbox One version, which has long load times, sound irregularities, and grainy/washed out visuals. I’ve read the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S versions are also solid in performance and presentation. All versions are still a little rough around the edges, however, as character movements can be a bit stiff and random glitches pop up from time to time, such as hair, limbs, and car frames disappearing for a few seconds, and defeated enemies hovering in the air or sticking out of the ground. On a side note, Keanu is always Keanu no matter what character he plays. Yeah. 

She said nothing.

HBO MAX

And Just Like That…

He Said: I miss Samantha.

She Said: I’m currently in the middle of the fourth episode of this revival of Sex and the City. Why is the premise so traumatic?! I kind of wish they had started the series with the Big news instead of having it collapse on us at the end of the first episode.  Anyway, it’s fun seeing Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and some of their O.G. crew, now in their mid-fifties, up to old and new antics.  Samantha was often fun to watch in SATC, but was also a little extra (especially in the SATC2 movie) and I don’t think the show is hurting too much without her.  Sarita Choudhary has made her appearance and I see that there is going to be an episode called “Diwali” in January, so that should be interesting!  I like that the show lets the ladies stay true to their characters while also engaging (often in a cringe way) with a more diverse range of New Yorkers; each of them has a new ethnic friend whose function is to expand their horizons, lol.   

Insecure

He Said: Issa Rae and company should be commended. Insecure is not only good for representation, but is also one of the rare comedy shows of late that is actually funny and hearfelt. Ted Lasso falls into the latter category as well. That said, Insecure suffers from the “will they, won’t they” aspect running too long. Given that this is the last season, having Lawrence in the picture as a possibility is a distraction as they’ve broken up multiple times and seemed to have moved on since the beginning of this season.

She Said: I’m sad that this season is the final one since I really enjoy watching Issa and Molly, but I’m not super invested in the storylines of this season.  I’m so done with Lawrence and I was always done with Nathan.  I think it would be fun to continue watching little web vignettes of Mirror Bitch and Issa -Molly-Kelli sleepovers after the show is over.   

Matrix Resurrections

He Said: I honestly never thought they would make another Matrix movie, so my interest was piqued when I heard the announcement. My enthusiasm was curbed, however, after seeing the trailer.  I won’t say the film is unnecessary, as there were some brilliant ideas introduced, but there were definitely some curious choices made, such as the campy, meta vibe that runs through almost every scene. Actually, it reminds me of the last few seasons of CW’s Supernatural, which went off the rails a few times

She Said: I can’t say no to Keanu saying “Yeah!” I liked this resurrection to the same extent that I liked Bill & Ted Face the Music.  It’s a satisfying meta call-back with the feel of the original movie and blended well with the present blue-pill day. 

Sort Of

He said nothing. 

She Said: This sweet 8-episode series (or Season 1 thereof, hopefully?) is centered around Sabi, a non-binary Pakistani Canadian millennial trying to sort out their priorities in life, work, and relationships.  The show is mostly light, but it also deals with some sort of heavy situations, and everything blends together just fine.  I like that the show doesn’t dwell greatly on Sabi’s struggle with culture or identity, though of course those issues come up in the storylines.  I’m looking forward to seeing more from Bilal Baig, the co-creator, co-writer, and star of this show. 

DECEMBER GEETS (aka Winter Jamz)

He Said: Mariah SZN is still upon us. I’m not a fan of Christmas music, but Mariah continues her reign as Christmas music queen. The Kacey Musgraves Christmas album is a few years old, but remains a treat. Beyond Christmastime music, I’ve been bumping a lot of Afrobeats: 

  • Century (featuring Fanarito, Kyika DeSoul & Konka) – Djy Zan Sa
  • 66 – Felo Le Tee & Myztro
  • First Time in America – Naira Marley
  • IYABO AKWAABA – Naira Marley
  • Sensima (featuring Reekado Banks) – Skiibii

She Said: 

  • I Wonder, What If, Let’s Try – Hailee Steinfeld, Sesame Street 
  • Dance Tonight – Lucy Pearl 
  • After Party – Koffee Brown 
  • Close My Eyes Forever – Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne 
  • Gremlins Theme Song 
  • It’s the Time to Disco – Kal Ho Na Ho 

Deets and Geets September 2021 Newsletter

Welcome to the September 2021 Deets and Geets newsletter, “He Said / She Said.” This month, we talk about the highs and lows of our pop culture discoveries broken down by the streaming services on which we watched them.

HULU

Reservation Dogs: High

He Said: Reservation Dogs is the truth! Along with Rutherford Falls, this show is such a breakthrough for Indigenous representation on mainstream mediums. Indeed, all the directors and writers are Indigenous, and Indigenous folk are involved at every level of production. The show gets Native humor right and does so much to dispel stereotypes of Native people, especially the one that says Native people don’t exist anymore. Although the nations of the protagonists aren’t specifically identified, the show is set in the Muskogee Nation and many of the characters speak Mvskoke. Small town/reservation antics, but universal appeal. Highly recommended, though, not for the kiddos even though kiddos are featured.

She Said: What a fun and sweet show!  The core crew of the “Rez Dogs” is a group of Indigenous teenagers in Oklahoma with dreams of moving to California – so desperate to leave their present reality behind that they steal a food delivery truck in the first episode, only to get into a turf war with the rival “NDN Mafia.”  We meet lots of other community members as the show progresses, and as the Rez Dogs continue trying to make money, learn how to defend themselves, and work through their feelings about family. The writers give us characters and situations which are relatable and absurd at the same time. The humor is witty and even subtly sardonic at times, without ever feeling preachy.

The White Lotus: High

He Said: This show reminds me why I don’t like resorts—what is designed to be a relaxing experience becomes stressful because of other people. Plus, I’m not really into being waited on and/or entertained by “the locals.” That said, it is hilarious to see from a distance how others navigate social mores in a resort setting. The show is a slow burn that definitely pays off in the end. While not mind blowing in regard to storytelling, the arcs feel natural to the cultivated universe.

She Said: This is a wildly entertaining, meme-worthy, and think-piece-spurring series about a bunch of mostly rich and white people who go on vacation at a fancy resort called The White Lotus in Hawaii, and the relatively of-color staff (including displaced locals) who are tasked to tend to their whims.  Many of the characters and the situations they get into are cringey and frustrating in a very realistic way – across race, class, and gender.  And therein lies the think-piece gold, in figuring out what the show is ultimately saying about comfort and complicity, and about whose stories should be centered.  The pacing and casting are on point. Check it out!

NETFLIX

The Chair: High

He Said Nothing.

She Said: I loved this Sandra Oh starrer!  It was just the right length to tell its story too: 6 episodes.  Sandra Oh plays Ji-Yoon, the first woman of color to chair the English department at the university where she works.  It is no easy feat dealing with denigrators all around: the old-timers with different ideas of who should be honored and promoted; the media misquoting her in the midst of an ongoing scandal; the self-righteous love interest who feels entitled to her loyalty; and the Bernie-Bro-energy Zoomer students who refuse to consider any such practical constraints when a woman of color doesn’t make instant, radical change upon getting a foot into the door.  On top of all that, Ji-Yoon is a single mother to a hot-headed little girl.  The show is largely light and does a good job of blending in drama and tenderness.

I’ll be happy to watch a Season 2 if there is one, but I think the way this season wrapped up would be a satisfying and affirming culmination. There are also some aspects of the show which I could see as being frustrating and (inadvertently?) reinforcing regressive norms, and I’m sure women in academia will have much more meaty and interesting things to say!

Mimi: Low

He Said: This Hindi-language remake of a Marathi movie is more polished, but still the same bollocks. While it holds a mirror to the ills of colorism, ableism, and sexism, it also blows kisses to the same isms. The acting from the main cast is admirable considering the script, but the overall production made me want a brain shower afterward.

She Said: Whyyyyyy!!!

This supposedly comical movie is about a young woman named Mimi with Bollywood dreams, whose body is creepily eyed by a white American couple as the ideal vessel to carry their baby.  The colonizers have been roaming around India looking for a surrogate (which, ew already) and they specifically like the idea of not just a healthy but also an attractive, tall young woman bearing their egg and sperm because apparently that is relevant?  Somehow, the story manages to get even more gross and wrong, not least including the way in which the white baby boy is exalted without any sense of satire. 

This movie is based on a Marathi movie called Mala Aai Vahhaychy!, which is apparently taken up more dramatically, and has good reviews.  I tried watching the first 10 minutes and it was pretty much unbearable watching this cigarette-smoking white woman being leered at by the locals – at least the Bollywood version didn’t go into that sort of white woman caricature. Apparently there is also a Telugu movie that’s called “Welcome Obama” and the “Obama” is a reference to the white child?!?!?!?!

APPLE / iTUNES MOVIES

Halloween Franchise

He Said:  Among the slasher film killers, Michael Myers has the least satisfying lore. I’ve only seen the original, the sequel to the original, Halloween H20, and the 2018 “direct sequel,” which is the beginning of the franchise retcon or retelling of something. In this case, this suggests the real Halloween films are only the 1978 version and the 2018 version. I think they should allow for the 1981 Halloween 2 film to be included for sake of continuity and character motivation. It continues right where the first left off and would make the protagonist’s PTSD even more understandable (per the 2018 “direct sequel”). My guess is they want to do away with the “Samhain” reference, which hints that there is something dark or evil lurking within Michael Myers that is beyond that of mortals. Without that reference, we are left wondering why has Michael been waiting ever so patiently to break out of incarceration to hunt Lory and why she knows he will come for her. Classic slasher movie stylings otherwise, but the motivation aspect is sketchy.

She Said: I didn’t watch any Halloween movies until this past weekend, when suddenly I watched three, starting with the original 1978 one, then jumping to the 2018 “direct sequel” where we were supposed to ignore all the other ones in between (which was great since I hadn’t watched them yet), and then Halloween II which was made in 1981.  Given that this retcon version was like a 40-years-later thing and supposedly the first face-off between serial killer Michael Myers and Laurie Strode since 1978, I thought it would have some sort of twists and turns and big reveals, if not an end-all to the franchise.  Alas, while there was some good action and some showcasing of clever defense strategies – and some element of intergenerational girl power – there was no depth at all as to the “why” of MM’s relentless decades-long pursuit of Laurie, with so many violent and largely slut-shamy casualties along the way.  Especially after watching Halloween II, to which the 2018 movie gives a couple of nods and which had way more in the way of the lore of this whole Michael Myers business, the ending was very unsatisfying, like just a cheap way to keep prolonging the franchise.  This whole variety of slasher movie is why I didn’t really take to horror as a genre until much more recently.  Apparently there will be a sequel to the 2018 version coming out next October – Halloween Kills. I will probably watch it, but I’m not expecting much more than another murderously hollow affair.

Physical: High

He Said: Rose Byrne plays hilarious characters— always the deadpan everywoman who is pushed to the edge (even if it’s of her own making) and rises up to do big or intense things. Her portrayal of Gloria Steinem still fits this description save for already doing big things by the time we’re introduced. Physical provides for her a vehicle to play a mousy housewife with a heart of lion. She’s kind of a horrible person, but she’s aware of this and tries not to be, which makes it a bit endearing. The first season doesn’t end with a bang, but I’m interested to continue her journey.

She Said: This series set in Southern California in the 1980s stars Rose Byrne as Sheila Rubin, the wife of an aspiring politician, who has a secret life binge-eating and purging bags full of fast food in hotel rooms while her daughter is at school.  She also starts secretly indulging in aerobics, which allows her to escape to a high-energy neon fantasy world where she is in control.  The show is tragi-comic, and although Sheila is often a really crappy person, it’s pretty funny to see and hear the contrast between her true inner thoughts and what she expresses.  I didn’t think the show rounded off that well in the finale – it neither seemed like a compelling way to end it, nor did it leave me too interested in watching a subsequent season – but it was decent time-pass.  It probably could have just been a four-part miniseries instead of 10 episodes.

HBO MAX

In the Heights: High

He Said: I don’t usually watch musicals or theater by myself. Maybe because they are designed to be communal experience? Either way, this sentiment includes streaming musicals. I couldn’t see myself sipping a beer solo on a Sunday afternoon while rocking out to “Benny’s Dispatch,” but it was a very fun movie to watch with LRK. Lin Manuel Miranda’s brands of dancing, singing, rapping, and storytelling are all over this as with the broadway hit Hamilton. Recommended for fans of musicals and those on the fence. Piragua! Piragua!

She Said: I thought this Lin Manuel Miranda production was perfectly cute, with a nice twist at the end of the stories that the main character Usnavi is telling a group of children about his youth, friendships, and love in Washington Heights. Ambition, jealousy, and gentrification are among the themes explored through colorful song and dance.  Worth a watch!

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States: Book Review by Super Star Agni

THE INDIGENOUS EXPERIENCE has long been absent from colonial histories, which either dismiss or rationalize the existence of and fallout from European imperialism. With An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, activist and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz examines the American settler-colonial framework and gives insight into the modern reality of Indigenous peoples’ experience.

AnIPHotUS Cover

The daughter of a Cherokee-Irish mother and a Scots-Irish tenant farmer father, Dunbar-Ortiz embraced her “fragmented” Native heritage and became politically active in California in the 1960s, joining the civil rights, anti-apartheid, anti-Vietnam War, women’s liberation, and Red Power movements, which, she writes, helped her gain the critical perspective presented in the book.

In an intelligent, comprehensible style, Dunbar-Ortiz outlines the culture of European conquest cultivated centuries before would-be settlers crossed the Atlantic. With a Christian, white supremacist zeal that justified colonialism, she writes in the chapter “Sea to Shining Sea,” a militaristic heritage developed in Western Europe during the crusades, that was later brought to the Americas with its policies of destruction and dehumanization.

“The establishment of the missions and presidios…traces the colonization of California’s Indigenous nations. The five-hundred-mile road that connected the missions was called El Camino Real, the Royal Highway. These California Franciscan missions and their founder, Junipero Serra, are extravagantly romanticized by modern California residents and remain popular tourist sites. Very few visitors notice, however, that in the middle of the plaza of each mission is a whipping post.”

Dunbar-Ortiz explains that not only were warfare and forced removal exercised with the intent to erase Indigenous peoples from the Americas, but effective use of terminology also aided in the conquest of the continent. She illustrates how popular culture perpetuates and justifies the disappearance and conquest of Indigenous peoples through the Columbus Myth, the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the concept of “firsting and lasting” ― which directs the national narrative to speak of civilized Euro-American founders on one hand and “Ishi, the last Indian” on the other ― and popular songs, such as Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

Dunbar-Ortiz decolonizes the American founding myth by examining how early Anglo-American literature worked to justify the uprooting and elimination of Native peoples, and why authors, such as James Fennimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville remain revered and studied today as national and nationalist writers instead of colonialist.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States challenges readers to rethink the national narrative of Manifest Destiny and ponder how society would be transformed if the reality of U.S. history were to be acknowledged on a wider scale.

In roughly  three hundred pages, spanning more than four hundred years of history, the book offers a new periodization of U.S. history and demonstrates the active nature of Indigenous survival through organizing and storytelling.

A version of this review originally appeared in the Winter 2015-2016 issue of News from Native California.

The Great Xanadu of Race Politics by Super Star Agni

mixed-raceI’ve been in the practice of storytelling through art since elementary school. I didn’t begin to tell my own story, however, until graduate school, where I wrote about the adventures of a dark-skinned mixed boy and a Russian-American girl in rural Kansas. After two years of study, I managed to complete my thesis, but was well short of a finished first draft.

After spending several more years writing a mixture of what could be described as The Little Prince meets Pedro Paramo, I realized the main character’s search for identity and purpose in a world that regarded him as anomalous because of his skin color and unorthodox beliefs were, in essence, my own.

Knowing my heritage, I managed to confounded the color line and mass-mediated stereotypes as a child. “You don’t sound Black” and “You are not the usual Black” are comments I’ve heard most often, the runners up being: “I can tell you’re mixed because your hair is different” or “What country are you really from?”

I’ve developed a series of responses over the years—some of which mention I’m of African, Cherokee, and Scottish ancestry—but, no matter how I respond, I always wonder why people from seemingly all backgrounds police Black identity so zealously, especially in regard to dark-skinned people of African descent.

An ex-girlfriend was of a similar mix type, but her appearance was notably different than mine. She had pale skin, blue eyes, and straightened brown hair with natural blonde highlights. I identified as mixed because of my upbringing and knowledge of my ancestry; she identified as Black because of her upbringing, adherence to the one-drop rule, and what I assume to be disinterest in her Native and Anglo ancestries. While our inevitable split was not due solely to identity politics, the policing of Blackness played a large part in our relationship’s demise.

Until recently, I was in the occasional habit of defending my ancestries with genealogical records, DNA test results, and family photographs, but I stopped all together because the act of proving serves to trivialize my experience and existence. I also stopped because identity police are annoying. Now I tell them “I am who my ancestors are” and let their minds silently explode.

The novel I mentioned earlier has actually become a memoir in verse even though the characters and happenings are fictional. If the concept of a poetic fictional memoir seems contradictory, blame artistic license, cultural inheritance, and the subversive nature of poetry. I was brought up to know storytelling is more about getting to the underlying truth than simply relating details. Given that, I’ve come to realize the concept of being both dark skinned and mixed is difficult to convey accurately without writing about in academic detail the usual suspects of colonialism, colorism, racism, and general human cruelty. Writing my truth in essence seems more natural and meaningful beyond mere details of record, and has become an effective way to transcend identity politics.

F3b1 haplogroup

My Mother’s Haplogroup – Region: Southeastern Asia

Wings of Wax Preview by Super Star Agni

WingsofWaxWhile my novel simmers at 85% completion, several of my former Mills College grad school classmates have released their published novels into the world, one of the most recent among them being from my good friend, Apollo Papafrangou, with Wings of Wax, the story of aspiring Illustrator Angelo Koutouvalis, who believes the secret to conquering his romantic shyness lies in traveling to Greece for a reunion with his estranged father, who can hopefully pass on the mysterious ways of the kamaki―the classic Mediterranean Casanova.

I read a draft of the book while we were in school together and am still reading through the definitive version. I’ll post more about Apollo and Wings once I’m done.

In the meantime, check out Apollo at San Francisco’s Quiet Lightning from last March:

News from Native California Winter 2015

nnc292cover_web800pxLast year, I was blessed with the opportunity to become a regular contributor to News from Native California, a quarterly magazine devoted to the Indian people of California. In volume 29, no. 2, my first contribution is a review of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous People’s History of the United States―an impassioned, well-documented telling of the history of America from an Indigenous point of view.

The theme of the issue is “Long live the cultures!” In light of resurgent efforts to quash minority voices, this sentiment is most apt.

Along for the Ride?

A few months ago I visited Cannery Row with my girlfriend on a marvelous sunny day. We ate fine food, listened to live jazz on the plaza while enjoying a view of Monterey Bay, window shopped expensive underwater camera equipment, and walked Ocean View Avenue with droves of other tourists; yet, I felt a lingering sadness. The Depression-era Row, “the poem and the Cannery Rowstink and the grating noise,” Steinbeck wrote about, came to mind as we walked by the older architecture and imagery. Perhaps the novel and my general knowledge of Ocean View Avenue influenced my immediate feelings, but the melancholy seemed to reach beyond that, beyond the restaurants, gift shops, cafes, hotels, and salons to a history of haves and have nots.

I’ve worked my share of miserable jobs and have had to subsist on rice for several days when teaching English in Japan, but I always felt on the verge of soaring above it all. True poverty grants few opportunities and little hope. Steinbeck’s beautifully tragic depictions of the working poor in Cannery Row are bleak, where the only blessing for the poor is to have other impoverished people around to survive. I imagined the dark frustrations of the people handling massive amounts of fish and metal for hours because canning was the best they could do to make a living, saw in my mind the grief of disheveled men and women living under trees or whatever  makeshift shelter they could construct.

Having read the book a while ago, I decided to reread it. I found the following entry I most likely glossed over because I wasn’t writing a novel then:

When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to catch whole for they will break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book—to open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves.

With that in mind, and with the end in sight, the new approach to writing the novel is to set aside a time—one hour, thirty minutes, whatever, and show up to write. If the symbolic flat worms crawl into my bottle of sea water, great. If not, I practiced my craft and didn’t injure any marine animals on my knife blade.

Okay, the analogy fell apart, but you get the idea.

National Native Media Conference 2014

NAJA_Icons_Color2Because I usually post about creative writing, some of you may not know about my start as a photojournalist and news writer. One of my affiliations is the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), which hosts an annual conference in a different U.S. city. This year, the conference will be in Santa Clara and will focus on traditional storytelling elements with modern, digital tools, hence the theme: Going Tra-Digital. As always, NAJA conferences are good for networking, professional development, and recognizing the best news coverage in Indian Country.

This is the first time a NAJA conference has been held in my area, so I jumped at the chance to be on the local planning committee. My duties include outreach and resource gathering. Oh, and thinking of the “Tech Wow!” or the showstopper. At first, I was thinking holograms would be cool for storytelling purposes, but who has access to holograms? And then I said to myself the Tech Wow! should be something with Google Glass because, although it’s crazy expensive at the moment, it’s so potentially the next step in digital storytelling and could significantly change how the public participates in the process.

On another tech and media note, check out my photography blog at: agnimitrakhan.com. The site remains in the beta stage for now, but will be the cat’s pyjamas once I settle on an optimal design.

Red Doc > Review by Super Star Agni

One of my favorite books is Autobiography of Red. The sequel, Red Doc > , continues the modern-day, fragmented telling of the relationship between mythological characters Geryon and Herakles in a different format and with changed names, yet maintains in its narrow columns of prose poetry a bittersweet love story.

As older men, Geryon, now known as the musk oxen herder G., and Herakles, the war veteran Sad But Great, meet again accidentally after an artist named Ida takes G.’s favorite ox for a precarious ride through the city. Like Autobiography, Red Doc>‘s narrative is beautifully disjointed and sparse, the details of past and present revealed mostly in essence:

What ever
happened to your
autobiography says Sad
you were always fiddling
with it in the old days. I
gave it up says G.
Nothing happening in
my life. They look at one
another and start to laugh.

Arguably less accessible than Autobiography, Red Doc > is a masterful work of prose poetry, an often polarizing, seemingly contradictory form. In a recent The Guardian interview, the author, Anne Carson, replied with a line from Red Doc > when asked of her definition of poetry: “If prose is a house, poetry is a man on fire running quite fast through it,” which doesn’t make immediate sense given her writing style, yet I get the essence. Maybe that’s the point.

IMG_0186 I saw Anne at my Alma mater on April 10, 2013 for all of 180 seconds between the backs of necks and earlobes of other attendees. I knew she was soft-spoken, given what I’d read of her introverted nature, but even with a microphone, I had trouble hearing her through the sound system; I went to a closer entry point only to be told by the graduate programs director the way was shut. Luckily, we live in the age of streaming video, so I was able to catch Anne’s UC Berkeley reading some weeks later, sans backs of necks and earlobes.

Cirque Du Work with Super Star Agni

PrintLife can be fabulously challenging and ridiculously fun all at once. Since the last entry, I’ve managed to have three notable writerly experiences and a string of personal battles that have resulted in me walking taller against the rain, as it were.

On March 16, I was a panelist in the “Day Job” slot of the annual Mills College professional development conference for writers and scholars titled “Cirque Du Work.” Our talk was mainly about how we, as working writers, balance creative time with the demands of a career. I was an audience member at Cirque Du Work (then known as Pitch Fest) as a Mills graduate student in 2009, in awe at the alums who had become published authors, so it was pleasantly surreal to sit behind a tableclothed desk on stage with my bottled water and wireless mic, speaking and answering questions about my writing process and career.

The discussion was lively and flowed smoothly due to an interesting crowd / panel dynamic, which I credit to the organizers and, perhaps, good fortune. I came away from the experience energized and happy to have been around such creative people.

The next week, I was asked to judge  a fiction writing contest. I won’t say which one or comment on the stories on the off chance someone reading this post entered the contest, but I will say it was an honor to be considered a writing authority.

Judging fiction is odd because the question of “What is good or award-winning fiction?” never seems to be answered to satisfaction. So, to avoid further complicating the matter, my criteria was kept simple, balancing gut responses with technical aspects in relation to what I thought each writer tried to accomplish.

What has made my writing more compelling over the years is a focus on clean, true lines. My favorite writers are Anne Carson, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, N. Scott Momaday, E.B. White, Lorine Niedecker, and several others, because their works are often engaging and descriptive without the words being forced to do too much.

Last week, I finally wrote into the novel after what seemed like months of not having done so. No, the heavens didn’t move to shine down divine light on my manuscript, but I felt what I wrote was quite marvelous.