Friday, July 23, 2021

Notched Up and Flammable

Back in June, I read an article in my Head Butler newsletter from Jesse Kornbluth. He described a book, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. The passages he quotes highlight the ordinary insults/belittling/denigration African Americans face living in our society. But he said the book was like poetry, so I put it on hold at my library.

I started and finished it yesterday. It's short.

Part I of the book is bits of what white people will actually say to black people. Horrible things. But all very believable.

Who said that? She said what? What did he just do? Did she really just say that? He said what? What did she do? Did I hear what I think I heard?

Part II of the book is about Serena Williams and what she has had to put up with as a strong, black woman in the white world of tennis. Rankine describes the bad calls against Serena by tennis umpires – five of them in the 2004 U.S. Open alone.

By now, I’m enraged. I like and admire Serena Williams, but I don’t follow tennis, so I didn’t know any of the bad calls, public ridicule, etc etc. This is all new to me, and I’m in a lather. How dare they treat her like that! How dare they think her anger is uncalled for!

I am sputtering with fury, fueled with rage, so I go online to Goodreads to register that I’m “currently reading” the book.

Huh? Goodreads shows that I’ve already marked the book as “read” back in 2017. And it only has three stars.

My First Reaction
Somebody has hacked my Goodreads account! Someone is adding books to my “read” list that I haven’t read. How have they gotten my password? And they’re throwing in fake star reviews, too; this book is clearly four stars. This is terrible!

Tim, witnessing both my Serena rage and the uproar over my hacked book list, mutters something about how it wasn’t, after all, my bank account.

But this is my book list! So I inspect other books recorded for 2017: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Yes, I read those. How deep has the hacking gone?

Ah, but back in 2017, I also kept a separate, non-Internet list of books I’d read. I can check against that. And there it is: I read Citizen: An American Lyric in May of 2017.

My Second Reaction
Dementia has set in, and I am one step away from assisted living. How could I have read a book, had such a strong reaction, and have absolutely no memory of it?

I tell people I have never read Kafka, that it’s a hole in my literary history. And then, many years ago, while cleaning out my mother’s attic, I came across a paper I wrote comparing the writings of Nietzsche and Kafka. I was thorough: the bibliography was comprehensive. Yes, I know my Nietzsche well, but I have never, ever read any Kafka.

Wherever Kafka is, so is Citizen: An American Lyric.

I read the rest of the book, hoping I’ll come across an aha! moment of recognition. It doesn’t happen. What does happen is Part III and Part IV and Part V and Part VI of regular and consistent humiliations and deaths of unarmed black men and mistreatment and the squashing of anger because to be black and “Yes, and this is how you are a citizen. Come on. Let it go. Move on.” But all expressed … lyrically … so it hurts to see ugliness described beautifully.

My Third Reaction
It’s 2021 today, and 2017 must have been a long, long time ago. 2019 was a long time ago.

Like the rest of America, I’m notched up. Claudia Rankine says it herself, that these moments accumulate in the body: “I wanted the book, as much as the book could do this, to communicate that feeling. The feeling of saturation. Of being full up.”

Her book does that, but in 2021, I am already saturated. I am a tinderbox and just one more story of social injustice, of people wronged or ignored, of rights lost, and I ignite. I am just a spark away from outrage.

So is the rest of America.

My Fourth Reaction
I’m coordinating meetings with my senators in support of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. (Email me if you’re interested.)

There, that sounds reasonable and calm and restrained, right? Like I can conduct myself properly. You wouldn’t know the desperation I feel about things not getting better. I’m not running crazy through the streets, shouting on street corners, tearing my hair out. At least, not on the outside. (Trust me, I still am on the inside.)

My hope? That we all reach our own Fourth Reactions, whatever shape they take. We just need to do something.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Did this come in your email?

Do things look different?

Does this blog look different?

Is everything working the way it’s supposed to?

Just when I think things are stable and running smoothly, technology throws a wrench in the works. I write and illustrate the blog; then I post it. Then it gets to you and your email because you signed up. But Google did away with the sign-up thingie, so I had to find another.

It’s called If you’re reading this, then works. Hooray!

If you’re not reading this, I’m going to have a big conniption fit in the corner. I may even throw things. I’ll call my friend, Steve, who also switched over to for his blog. And maybe eventually, I’ll take deep breaths and calm down.

Whether it’s my car, my wristwatch, my scanner, or public restrooms, technology has confounded me.

It’s confounded you, too. I had to explain how to comment and share my posts after so much shared confusion.

Some of these posts go back to 2015 – technology is a problem that endures. Back then, I was still figuring out how to work an Apple TV remote.

I’m going on and on, assuming you’re here with me, that I made it into your inbox. Oh, and if you’re reading this on the website ( and not via email, you should see a great big box “To receive Our Third Thirds by email” with a big black “Subscribe” button. That’s compliments of It’s easy.

We hope.

Sharing Button