Saturday, January 19, 2019

Book Review: Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

Image: The cover of the book has a white background with silhouettes of many species of animals having sex in various colors including dogs, insects, birds, rhinos, lions, slugs, and rabbits. The title of the book is written in large purple and red uppercase letters and each word is split in half as it spans the page (each word taking up two lines.) The byline "The politics of feeling good" is in small blue letters across the bottom. Below that, in lavender letters is "written and gathered by adrienne marie brown."

Pleasure Activism is a collection of essays, interviews, poetry, and art composed and/or collected by adrienne maree brown. The structure and organization of the book is well thought out as it spaces each of these mediums apart so that the reader is not over-saturated. The book is very Queer and trans- inclusive and most of the entries and interviews are with women, gender non conforming, and/or* trans people of color. There is one somewhat academic essay but the rest of the entries involve people from a variety of backgrounds from art and performance to on the ground street activism. This makes the book very accessible to a wider audience.

"Pleasure activists believe that by tapping into the potential goodness in each of us we can generate justice and liberation, growing a healing abundance where we have been socialized to believe only scarcity exists" -adrienne maree brown, Introduction

I should have know from the cover- which depicts many species of animals having sex and the title- that this book would be largely about sex. However, the blurb about this book led me to believe that the book would be a more expansive discussion of "(making) social justice the most pleasurable experience." The book is not only about sex but the vast majority of it is focused on sexual pleasure and relationships. There is a small section on drugs, performance art, fashion, and parenting (which still often center sex and sexuality.)

I have spent a lot of time in Queer communities where sex was everywhere and the center of everything. So, I understand why a Queer writer would choose to focus so much on that. But, to be honest, I wanted more. I wanted larger discussions (though there are brief mentions) about how social justice activism is often so punishing and how to form better (sexual AND nonsexual) relationships with each other. I wanted sections on how to actually make activism more pleasurable, fun, and creatuve since activism is in the title. I wanted more discussion on all of the different ways we can find pleasure and how to find them. This was actually detailed wonderfully in the short outro at the end of the book. I wish the rest of the book showed the same amount of diversity in topics. Is simply having pleasure in your personal life "activism?" Where are the discussions of pleasure for people who are isolated from social activities due to disability, illness, geographical location, class, lack of accessibility of sexual partners (re: pretty privilege, etc?) How can we make life more pleasurable for those who lack access?

It feels necessary to explain a little where I am coming from in order for my criticism to make sense. I went from being a very active polyamorous Queer in radical, BDSM, and/or activist communities, that were very saturated with sex and play at all times, to being a deliberately single and celibate person focusing on platonic friendships without sex. I spent far more time in the former category but I've been doing the latter for years now. I am chronically ill/disabled and this plus having a lot of harmful and traumatic relationship experiences led me to choose my current path. I also have been sober for about 14 years due to addiction and it is near impossible to find any social and pleasure-oriented spaces for Queers where the majority of people there are not intoxicated- arguably beyond the ability to properly consent. It really sucks when you make a connection with someone who doesn't remember you the next day. It sucks when you get a dirty look asking about how much someone was drinking/using drugs before agreeing to something sexual with them, even though you are doing so to make sure you don't harm them. Intoxication and hypersexuality is the norm in most Queer spaces, even if it isn't in the normative world. So, a book that is basically only encouraging sex and getting high as forms of pleasure activism is a disappointment to me.

This is covered in places, such as in Micha Cárdenas' essay, Beyond Trans Desire, in which she states, "I have in recent years been able to build a deep self-love and self-respect that I did not learn from queer communities or radical political communities, where I often felt further devalued, excluded, and objectified. I have found a refuge in people committed to healing, service, and sobriety and that gave me the tools to question my desire and my part in putting myself in situations that caused me to feel devalued." So, in brown's inclusion of others words for portions of the book, she did cover more bases.

Brown does indeed briefly discuss celibacy and other topics. Brown does mention that drug use can turn into addiction. But, for the most part, she centers her own experience in what pleasure is. She tells the reader to masterbate, have an orgasm before each chapter, she tells the reader to smoke up, etc. This did not feel very inclusive of those of us who cannot, do not, struggle with, or or do not want to do those things. Weed is generally very safe in comparison to drugs like alcohol or heroin, but it's still dangerous or some of us- especially those of us with addiction histories or problems with/risks of developing psychosis. What about those of us who want pleasure in a sober setting? The sections on drugs make it seem like sober settings dominate and oppress which is not true. The vast majority of Queer and other social situations are dominated by alcohol and other drugs which deprives those of us who don't want to be around that from social pleasure.

I do want to say though that it is likely that the focus on drugs and sex in liberatory ways come from a society and government that still punishes people for enjoying sex and which still criminalizes drugs in heinous and murderous ways. These are both things that must be combated at all costs. The harm reduction interview in the drug section was excellent and there is absolutely a place for all of brown's essays and advice on sex and sexuality. I simply wanted more accessibility and variety.
I also have mixed feelings about the use of footnotes in this book. This is nit-picky, I know. But, the level of distraction warrants comment. There were times that the footnotes were excellent and I wished more books would use them in the way she did. For instance, when doing an interview with someone and they would mention something from a book, she would cite the author and book. However, at other times, the footnotes were very distracting. The book begins with an Audre Lorde essay that brown litters with critical footnotes even though many of the criticisms are discussed in the intro already (such as the limits of dated language.) In contrast, a later article pins "women and femmes" (will this phrase die in 2019, please) against "men and masculine people" listing all of the ways apparently only feminine people suffer sexual assault, gendered oppression, exploitation and abuse in sex work, etc but butch and androgynous women and transmasculine people are apparently both responsible for the same oppression that cishet men force upon sex workers while also not being victims themselves of said oppression. I am the first person to want to discuss to rampant problems with toxic masculinity in Queer communities. But, denying the trauma, work, and lived experiences of gender non-conforming women and trans people and placing them in the same oppressive role of cishet men who exploit sex workers is not how you do it. Erasing butch and androgynous women from the category of women and acting as if transmasculine sex workers don't exist is not how you do it. (I've known many trans men sex workers who not only exist, but also are often present themselves as women for their clients out of necessity and demand and thus are treated with the similar oppression cis and trans women face.) There were no footnotes from brown on this article nor were there any on other articles that made some iffy statements. This would be fine if the book was just a collection of essays with differing opinions. But, if you're going to criticize Lorde for having some general terms and dated language on an essay from 1978, I hope you're going to treat the people who are alive and writing today the same way.

Now that I have been honest about where I am coming from and why this book did not always work for me in the ways I had hoped, I want to talk about the ways that it does work for me. And, I want to state again, that this review is largely about my own taste and is not to say that others would no get exactly what they need from the book, which is why I still gave it a high rating.

As I mentioned, this book is very Queer and inclusive of many Queer identities and genders. It centers Black and Brown women and/or trans people in very accessible ways. It offers some great lessons regarding sexual and romantic relationships and harm reduction. It contains excellent and engaging interviews with amazing people. Brown's own contributions are always beautifully and kindly written and easy to read.

One of my favorite parts about "Pleasure Activism" is brown's very wise lessons on boundaries, moderation, knowing that you are deserving, and discovering balance. I bookmarked pages over and over where brown discusses how to create, hold, convey, and feel comfortable with and deserving of boundaries. While they are often described in relation to sexual and romantic relationships, the lessons are applicable to all areas of life. Here are a few gems:

"Your no makes way for your yes. Boundaries create the contain within which your yes is authentic. Being able to say no makes yes a choice." -amb, Introduction

 "Don't compromise your core values, don't giggle at something you find ignorant or offensive. But, don't hang up because this human with a different life than you has reached different conclusions." -amb, It's About Your Game

"Set generative boundaries. Create mutual abundance. I envision generative boundaries as organic fences, made of stacked rocks or thick bushes that become home to millions of small creature families. Porous, breathing boundaries that are clear that mark the space between partners in ways that make them both feel abundant." -amb, Liberated Relationships, Expanded

For people who are interested in entering into or who are already part of what can be a wonderful world of multi-partnered Queer filth (I mean this in every great sense of the word,) brown offers a great deal of useful relationship, sex, and dating advice. She also offers a lot of information on solo sexual pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed her discussion of why she likes being "a second," meaning a non-primary partner to someone. I have always felt this way and sought out that position frequently when I was dating and hooking up, but had not seen many other people write about it in the way that brown has.

The "Hot and Heavy Homework" assignments were helpful and fun editions to the essays. They are all creative and different from what I have often seen in relationship or self help books. They are also assignments accessible to a wide range of needs.

The collection of essays titled "Skills for Sex in the #metoo Era" was my favorite in the book. I adored and devoured each essay in the section. If you are a person who skips around in anthologies like this, be sure to check out that section.
Finally, I must say that even though I have my critiques how much of the book centered on sexual pleasure and drugs, this book did inspire me to open up a bit and ask myself questions about my future in regards to relationships. Perhaps that was part of why so much of it was so hard for me. So, please keep in mind after reading my review that my process is not the same as your process and both of our processes are ok. I can see a great many people- including my younger self- getting a great deal of what they need from this book. So, I do recommend giving it a read. There is a lot of great stuff in here from brown and other important voices.

*I say "women and/or trans people" to denote a group of people including people who may be women, other trans people, or both women and trans. Trans women are women. We still lack a great phrase for the inclusion of marginalized and oppressed genders, but I refuse to use "women and femmes" for reasons which I describe in this article and an author describes well here.

This was also posted to my goodreads.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Book Review: Reclaiming Our Space by Feminista Jones

Image: The cover of the book has a geometric red and pink background. On the top half, in large uppercase yellow and orange letters is "Reclaiming Our Space." Below that in small, black, uppercase letters reads, "how black feminists are changing the world from the tweets to the streets." Below that, in larger teal uppercase letters is the author's name- Feminista Jones. At the bottom of the cover in small black letters is a quote from a review, but it is too small for me to read and transcribe as my copy does not contain the quote. 

In reviewing Reclaiming Our Space by Feminista Jones, it feels necessary to recommend that the reader disregard the title of the book before diving in. I hung on to the title for a while before letting it go and wish I had let it go sooner. The book is not a book about other feminists' activism online and in person. It is largely a book about Jones' life, opinions, experiences, and writing career told through a collection of separate essays. This is not a bad thing. I would have also been interested in reading a book that presented itself as a collection of her essays or as a memoir. But, those who latch onto the title may find themselves disappointed. Jones does indeed discuss the writing and tweeting of other feminists, but only in brief snippets that almost always end up being directed back to Jones' experiences, her writing, her opinions, or her interactions with said feminist. There is also not much on the " the streets" part of the title as the book focuses heavily on social media, blogging, writing, and some other media. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It actually made me appreciate social media contributions more. It's just not quite in line with what I expected from the title.

As I mentioned, this book gave me a more positive and appreciative view of social media contributions to radicalism and activism. As someone who was born in the early 80s- before the internet was a widely accessible thing- I grew up often being told that what happened on the internet was "not real." This colored the way I have analyzed writing on social media. I had not even realized before reading this book how much the value I placed on certain formats was infected by capitalism and as a result, white supremacy. I saw newspaper articles as "real" sources and facebook rants as "opinion." While some newspapers may have more resources for fact checking, they also tend to have a narrow demographic representation. While most people can contribute to social media, making it dangerous ground for the spread of false information, it is also a platform that allows the most underprivileged voices to be seen, heard, and spread widely- usually without the compensation offered to those writing news articles. There is, of course, overlap between the two as well. This was very important for me to read and not something I have seen presented in this way.

In discussing her own experiences with social media and writing, Jones expands on this, peppering her narrative with anecdotes about various feminists on blogs and twitter who created large, influential presences on the internet. Jones also discusses the amount of backlash that Black feminists face when tackling the topic of feminism in the realms of both Blackness and womanhood. There are sections dedicated to (Heaux)teps and what Jones calls "Hotep Twitter" as well as white feminism and the harm caused by women such as Rose McGowan, Tina Fey, and other white woman who fail to understand racism or the unique struggles faced by Black women. The only negative about this is that Jones ends up devoting more time to anti-Black feminist voices than she does to the voices of Black feminists. As a result, there may be an unintended effect of misogynoir being amplified through the amount of space it is given relative to Black feminist voices (aside from Jones'.) 

When I hit the "Talk Like Sex" chapter, I was looking forward to reading something more inclusive given that Jones mentions multiple times that she is queer. However, in general, her discussions of sexuality centered heterosexuality and heterosexual sex and relationships. I was still holding onto the title of the book at this point and this essay in particular could have benefited from the inclusive of the voices of queer and/or trans women and queer sex/relationships. But, again, if the book is viewed as more of a memoir of the reader, this lack of inclusion is less disappointing. This is not to say that "Talk Like Sex" offered nothing. It included a variety of sex positive issues as well as some of Jones' theories that were framed in interesting ways. Jones' discussion of the lack of existence of "slut" and "ho" (due to the reality that it takes a value judgment of womens sexuality in order to use the words) was particularly engaging.

The last few essays of the book are what really get down to the subject matter of Black feminism and represent more of Jones' views rather than experiences. These were my favorites of the book, especially "Black Mamas Matter." The aforementioned essay tackles a topic that is often underrepresented or underappreciated in feminist discourse, despite being something discussed by Black feminists from before feminist was even a word. I believe Jones- like her sections on social media- adds some new things to this important discussion. She weaves information from popular culture throughout a discussion of Black women's (lack of adequate) healthcare, childbirth and childcare, and the general stigma and struggle Black women have faced and continue to face from all directions. "Mammy 2.0" was another essay in this section involving an engaging catalogue of past and present struggles of Black women given the stereotype. If you're the type of person who skips around a lot in essay collections and anthologies, be sure to read the last third of the book.

In summary, this book is enjoyable and important. It is likely best viewed as part memoir, part collection of essays by the author rather than an in depth book about other feminists. While Jones does drop a lot of names in the book, refreshingly, many of which we never hear, it is my opinion that she does not give them enough space to match the title. The book is still a decent contribution to "the discourse" as Jones' words stand well on their own.

This review was also posted to goodreads.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Book Review: Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law

Image: The cover of the book is light blue with the author's name in yellow capital letters across the center top of the book, the title of the book in white capital letters in the center, and "a practical handbook" in yellow letters and at the bottom. Each set of text is separated by a thin, white, horizontal line.

Linda Tashbook's Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law is an indispensable handbook for not only family members of people with mental illness, but anyone in any proximity to mental illness and disability- including the sufferers themselves. The book is directed at family members, but it contains such a vast amount of accessible information that I can't think of anyone who would not benefit from having it around.

While the book can certainly be read cover to cover, it is designed well as the "practical handbook" that it claims to be. Each section stands on it's own, allowing the reader to jump around and skip things that aren't currently relevant. I would say I read 60-75% of the book. I marked many sections to reread later and will likely get to the ones that weren't currently relevant when the time comes to need them. As a person who is on social security disability for multiple health conditions, someone who has dealt with family members' suicide and involuntary commitment, someone who has had prisoner pen pals with severe mental illness, and someone with a former background in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, there was a huge amount of information in this book that was relevant and educational for me. Even things I thought I was pretty well versed in, such as social security disability, offered clarifying information that filled in many gaps in my knowledge.

Tashbook's book is very well organized and uses many tools to make the information more accessible such as anecdotes, court cases, how-to guides, terminology definitions, and general step-by-step information often difficult for the public to access. The book is broken up into five major categories: Health Law, Criminal Law, Employment Law, Consumer Law, and Death and the Law. Each major category has several specific sub-sections. Do you need to know how much someone receiving social security disability income can make and how long they can work at a part time job before losing their disability benefits? Do you need help navigating life insurance claims after the suicide of a parent? Are you wondering who is responsible for housing relatives with severe mental illness? What do you do if your child with severe mental illness is arrested for loitering? Do you need to know what kind of assets of people dealing with federally qualifying mental health disabilities count against state and federal benefits? How can you make sure someone you know with mental illness or other health struggles will receive their medications while incarcerated? Tashbook has you covered on all of these fronts and more. The information is all very easy to find in the book as well, allowing you to navigate to whatever specific section you need in the moment.

My only criticism of this book is how easy Tashbook goes on the police. She has large sections dedicated to dealing with police misconduct, but often wraps things in the idea that police are well-intentioned, law-abiding citizens that exist to protect people. Disabled people make up the largest demographic of people killed by police. Approximately half of incidences of gun violence by police and 25-50% of people killed by police have mental illness. Tashbook took the time to be hard on emergency room workers, insurance providers, and so on. I believe she should have gone harder on police. I, of course, did not expect her to shout, "ACAB" from the rooftops. But, some acknowledgement of how horrific police involvement in mental illness situations often is would have been appreciated. The way the sections on police are written makes it seem as if misconduct is rare and when it occurs it is well investigated and punished. The opposite is true and studies show this. To Tashbook's credit, she does offer a lot of information on how to make reports of police misconduct from the local all the way to federal levels. I wish it was also noted that police have always existed as agents of control rather than protection. A book dealing with mental illness and the law should not make it seem like the police are generally on the side of marginalized people.

I should note that the tone of this book is generally not preachy or opinionated. So, I understand why Tashbook (and other legal writers I have read) take a cautious approach with how they discuss the police. I just hope that people don't see police as a first resort when reading these things. Overall, though, this book is extremely important and needed and thus I can forgive this one criticism. I am glad to have this on my shelf and will undoubtedly use it as a reference for years to come.

This review was also posted to goodreads.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Book Review: Che: A Revolutionary Life (Graphic Biography)

Image: The cover of the book is a splotchy brown and tan background. "Che" is written accross the top in very large, red, capital letters that fade at the bottom. Che Guevara is drawn in black and white from the neck up and ears forward. He has a beard, a beret, and is taking a drag off of a cigar held in his hand while looking down. Under the title and across the top of his head says, "A Revolutionary Life" in white capital letters and under that, in front of his face on the left side of the cover, states (A Graphic Biography, Jon Lee Anderson & Jose Hernandez."
I won this via goodreads giveaways and it is labeled as an "advance uncorrected proof."

Let me begin by stating that the art in this book is fantastic across the board. José Hernández produced some of the best art I've seen in comics/graphic novels. This is what carried the book for the most part. Hernandez's name should be the first author.

I also want to start by saying my beliefs are anti-authoritarian and extremely left wing. So, please do not take my criticisms to be coming from a place of being anti-communism. Anti-authoritarian communism is pretty close to where I am at.

The main reason for my rating this book as mediocre is that Anderson's writing just wasn't there. I do want to give him credit- a graphic biography is a really cool idea and one difficult to execute. So, perhaps this just isn't his field. I have not read any other biographies of Che to compare, so I am unsure of how accurate this is. I can say that it seems like Anderson thought writing for comics or writing dialogue was just a shorter form version of writing an article for the New Yorker. It's common for comic writers not to be seen as legitimate. But, this book is an example of writing that is not good for comics. The dialogue is very bland outside direct quotes and the thing that carries us through the story is the artwork. I know that Anderson wrote a respected biography of Che and perhaps it just did not translate to this medium.

I also took issue with Anderson's introduction. It would be extremely important, if he is still able, to rewrite the introduction. If Anderson wants to appeal to a large audience, especially audiences that would be most interested in this kind of book, he needs to not alienate most of those younger than him. The introduction reads as if he no longer believes violent revolution exists because of iphones and the internet. The "kids these days" approach to dismissing the criticisms and concerns about Guevara's violence and oppressive ideals made him seem like a lousy historian. He brings up Guevara's homophobia in the introduction, then never touches on it in the text.

There are many issues with dismissing homophobia and complaining of identity politics. First off, gay people have been part of revolutions forever. They are often erased just like people of other oppressed groups. Secondly, this should be obvious, putting gay people into camps is egregiously disgusting. I assume that this is due to war and radical movements both being an extension of broader culture. The machismo and hatred of homosexuality, gender nonconformity, and the feminine existed before Guevara came to Cuba and before Castro. Nonetheless, oppressive, homophobic, misogynistic behavior that was part of Castro and Guevara's revolution. In the book, Castro states, "The revolution is not carried out with saints, Ernesto. It's made by real people." This is absolutely true and important to remember, especially in perfectionist call-out culture. But, it is also true that it took active, deliberate, planned efforts to round up gay people and put them into labor camps. That's a bit different than having some character flaws. I really looked forward to this being explored in the book but it was not even mentioned. The idea that kids these days put identity ahead of the revolution completely erases all of the people whose daily struggles with brocialists fit into how they were treated and heard during revolutions.

On to the content, I did enjoy the book while reading it and eventually settled into it well. It did teach me a little about Latin American leftist revolutions and gave me some history on the key players. I am unsurprised that Guevara was a brocialist. Pretty much all men who self appoint as leaders of "the revolution" are. I very much admire how Castro, Guevara, and co refused to submit to the United States. But, Guevara's behavior often seemed less idealistic and more self centered. His early journals (not included in the book) show racism against Black African people. His later trip to help "liberate" them is marred with criticisms of the people with little to no interest in learning from them. Ableism is part of every revolution, but if you want another example of self centeredness, it is "If I can climb the stairs, with asthma, why can't everyone else?" The book portrays his as a absent father and husband who blames "the revolution" for his mistreatment of his families and neglect of his responsibilities. He seemed to see women's only purpose as child creators and rearers. Many of these things are common, normal mistakes of young revolutionary men throughout history (and today.*) But, I would have appreciated if this book touched on the nuances more. I can tell it tried to, but it did not get there for me. I have asked myself if it was simply my dislike of the character they wrote about or if it was the writing. I believe it was a bit of both.

*This is not to let them off the hook and there are plenty of exceptions.

Also posted to my goodreads.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Book Review: Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another's Misfortune

Image:  The cover of the book is bright yellow and in the center is a small illustration of a banana peel on the ground. The title of the book spans the top center of the cover in capitalized black serif font letters. The author's name is at the bottom of the cover in the same lettering. In lowercase letters below her name it says, "Author of The Book of Human Emotions."

Content Warning: This review includes mention (but no gratuitous descriptions or analyses) of sexual violence.

I don't know exactly what I expected going into Tiffany Watt Smith's "SHADENFREUDE: The Joy of Another's Misfortune." I think perhaps since I have a bit of a psychology background, I expected an interesting but somewhat dry psychological analysis of the phenomenon. This book was far more than that. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of this little text and laughed out loud at many of the anecdotes and analyses. Perhaps that says more about me than it does about the book.

Smith uses psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, sociology, gender studies, pop culture, and other vehicles to examine the subject in very entertaining ways. She visits experts and gets their take, often detailing entertaining or moving conversations. She packs quite a lot into a small space from celebrating sports injuries to to #metoo and more. The book is broken up into different kinds of schadenfreude and different times that it presents itself. The beginning of each of these sections has three or so anecdotes of schadenfreude happening- most (or perhaps all) of which describe or mirror real life events. Gems like: a family lunch, your parents mention how lovely your brother's children are, and it absolutely definitely sounds like they're really saying  that your brother's kids are nicer than your kids, and then your brother's kid comes in sobbing with chocolate smeared all over his face, and screams: "Grandma's a fucking bitch!"

When a married anti-LGBT senator is caught having sex with a man in his office.

And, I would like to add two that I thought of repeatedly throughout the book that were not included, perhaps because it is about to get real dark in here: 

When Daniel Holtzclaw- police officer and serial rapist mainly targeting Black women- was in tears after being found guilty of multiple rapes and sexual assaults, with a recommended sentence of 263 years, ON HIS BIRTHDAY. 

When white supremacist/alt-right/nazi Richard Spencer was punched in the face during a news interview.

Both of these instances brought people out of the woodwork who claimed they normally don't celebrate pain and violence, but would make an exception in these cases. I have to agree. And some great memes came out of them.

There were some anecdotes Smith included I did not find funny. But, most of them at least made me smirk. It was an interesting experience as I often see myself as less inclined towards schadenfreude than average. Having read this book, I now believe that is not true, especially regarding schadenfreude that offers some form of poetic justice. The book helped me better understand and accept this rather than beating me down as bad for feeling it. Smith truly shows how schadenfreude is woven throughout all of our interactions and how it can serve certain social purposes. I knew a little bit about schadenfreude going in. I did not know that there is a separate word for it in a great many other languages, showing it spreads across locations and cultures.

While there is variance between individuals in just how far they will go with their schadenfreude, a unifying theme is often a feeling that the person or people had it coming. The authors seems to differentiate between sadism and schadenfreude, the former being more of a description of enjoying (and often causing) suffering in general. Misogynists, racists, corrupt politicians, and others bring obvious schadenfreude, but there is also a reality that people who are smug, lack humility, or just have an easier more privileged life also invoke joy in others when they suffer. Smith examines these phenomena both generally and personally being candid and honest about her own feelings and experiences. As she tied up the book she mentions, "I had hoped for a happy ending. Something like... I am, in short, a better person. But you already know that's not true," I laughed out loud. Yet, she follows this with some pretty brilliant life advice regarding dealing with when we find ourselves the target of schadenfreude, especially from people close to us:

If you are the victim of someone else's schadenfreude, you are seen as a worthy opponent. You have- or had, but don't worry, you'll get it again- something they want. Think back to those times when you have enjoyed their losses. Unless you very much deserve your misery, (in which case, take a long hard look at yourself,) their glee will tell you a lot about how you've made them feel.This really gave me a lot to chew on regarding schadenfreude (that isn't as clear cut as white supremacists deserving a punch to the face) in both directions. If you aren't quite able to see yourself as someone who finds joy in the misery of others at times, pick up this book and you'll find you are just as petty as the rest of us. And that's ok.

This review was also posted to goodreads.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Book Review - Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities

Image: The cover of the book is a surrealist landscape with a blue cloudy sky dotted with two blue and black butterflies which are also scattered throughout the rest of the scene. Two green globe-like hills make up the background. An elongated tan and dark brown checkerboard weaves like a road through the center with brown ground underneath it. Several playing cards and white and black chess pieces are scattered around. In the upper right corner is part of a green tree or bush with globe-like bunches of leaves and the bottom right corner is an obscured tan house with a reddish brown roof and an arrow snaking out of the front. The title of the book is at the center in white script font and in smaller letters on the bottom reads "edited by Belo Miguel Cipriani."

Review also available on goodreads.

Up until now, the vast majority of books I have won on goodreads giveaways have been mediocre to poor. There are plenty I don't win that a later read and love, but for some reason, I have bad luck with the ones I do win. I am pleased to write that with Belo Miguel Cipriani's book "Firsts: Coming of Age Stories by People with Disabilities," this was not the case. This collection of essays was an excellent read, not to mention a decent representation of the wide variety of people with disabilities.

Firsts surprised me off the bat when I read the introduction from the author who is a Blind gay man of color. Mainstream disability narratives are often dominated by white, heterosexual, and other non-marginalized voices, leaving out a huge amount of disabled voices with a variety of perspectives to offer outside the norm. Given my rough history with goodreads giveaways, I expected just that. I was so happy to continue reading and discover so many queer disabled stories in the book. Several gay and bisexual authors contributed and it was excellent to see my communities represented in this way. Cipriani was also not the only author of color.

This book also showcased a wide variety of disabilities. We get to hear from Blind folks, those with PTSD, part time and full time wheelchair users, those with severe tinnitus and hearing loss, people on the Autism spectrum, and others. It was again, a pleasant surprise to see such a wide variety of perspectives included in this book when all too often, many disability stories center on one type of disability. This has functional relevance at times such as a campaign focusing on a specific disability, but in others, such as disability accommodations and events, the lack of diverse representation is often a problem.

Even though this book hit on many unheard demographic experiences, that is not the only reason I liked it and gave it 5 stars. Most of the essays are well written and accessible and the book is well edited. The essays capture the experiences at a reading level accessible to many. The title says that they are "coming of age" stories but I would say that is not accurate. Some stories are coming of age but many others are experiences from people already well into adulthood. The stories range from heartbreaking to sentimental. One story, in which a wheelchair user details his first experience with a gay hookup website ripped out my heart. Each narrator has their own unique voice and perspectives on living with disabilities.

I can definitely feel confident recommending this book, knowing it represents a wider variety of voices than many disability stories and anthologies do. And, it's just plain entertaining. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Review: I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

Image: The book cover is a mint green background with scattered writing all in capital letters. There are horizontal black stripes that fill in the gaps between words. "I'm still here," on top in white letters, "Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness," in the center in black letters, and "Austin Channing Brown" on the bottom in white letters.

Austin Channing Brown's memoir is a short and compelling book despite the fact that she claims near the beginning that there was not anything flashy or exceptional in her life like growing up rich or in extreme poverty. She has plenty of interesting stories from her life to tell and she uses them very well to convey messages about larger society. The book is structured in an interesting way, breaking up the memoir with interludes like, "Why I love being a Black girl." This made the book flow well.

Brown was given a perceived white man's name by her parents in order to combat prejudices, white supremacy, and misogynoir. While this name did work to get her in the door at times, she still of course faced racism on a regular basis. At one point in the memoir, she details one day at a predominantly white workplace. This story was very effective in showing just how many microaggressions Black women deal with daily. Brown focuses a lot on these microaggressions and for good reason. It is not only the sporadic horrific murders or someone calling someone the N-word that are effects of racism and white supremacy. It is the daily slog through a society in which every stitch of its culture is built around whiteness.

Brown details microaggressions such as white people touching her hair and scrutinizing her body, being expected to speak for all Black people everywhere from grade school to the work place, white guilt and the space taken up by well-meaning but ignorant white people, and more. She also delves deep into the never ending historical pain caused by horrific events such as the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing- in which 4 KKK members murdered 4 young Black girls- and the day that white supremacist murderer Dylann Roof took the lives of 9 people and (physically) injuring another. I am sure that everyone present has the psychological injuries that will last a lifetime. Brown talks about her experiences as a Black, church-going, Christian woman. She discusses how to persevere even when it feels like there is no hope in a society in which racism never goes away, it just slightly changes its shape.

There is a lot of discussion of Black churches and Christianity in this book. I always get a little nervous regarding Christianity talk as most churches have not been kind to (Queer and trans) people like me and white Christianity has been used as a tool of genocide and colonization. Brown, while very strong in Christian faith, does understand there is a history that cannot be ignored. She says that, "...even though the Church I love has been the oppressor as often as it has been the champion of the oppressed, I can’t let go of my belief in Church—in a universal body of belonging, in a community that reaches toward love in a world so often filled with hate. I continue to be drawn toward the collective participation of seeking good, even when that means critiquing the institution I love for its commitment to whiteness." Despite being an atheist myself, I do understand the purpose churches serve for many. Brown did well to put this into words.

She ends the book with a discussion about love. In response to people insisting she should love her oppressor into stopping the oppression, she states, “More often than not, my experience has been that whiteness sees love as a prize it is owed, rather than a moral obligation it must demonstrate.” Yet, Brown urges people not to give up and still believes love is a tool for liberation. This book is more than a memoir, it is also passionate plea for racial justice. It is a quick and worthy read.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Book Review: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America

Image: The book cover has a tan background with a black silhouette of a person's head from the neck up facing to the right. Across the profile are 5 streaks of red painted lines and woven on top of and under the lines is "Stamped from the Beginning" in white uppercase letters. Underneath the neck of the profile is "The Definitive history of Racist Ideas in America" in smaller, italic, black letters. The lower right corner has Ibram X. Kendi's name in red letters.

Note: I normally only post advance or recent release reviews to this blog and reviews of older books to goodreads. This book came out over a year ago, but I decided it was recent and important enough to include here.

This is a long book, but it is not the kind that I spent time wishing was shorter. In fact, this book could have been much longer and held my interest in satisfying ways. Stamped from the Beginning is mostly a history of anti-Black racist ideas in (North) America. It also serves as one of the best accounts of the History of the United States I have ever read. Ibram X. Kendi covers a huge amount of important history that often goes untold or is mangled by white supremacist revisionists. I wonder what life would be like if this was the history book we had in grade school.

This book outs the "founding fathers" as slavers and racists, covers the complex intricacies of Black resistance, liberation, and assimilation, and also strives to hold space for Black women and LGBTQ Black people that is often lacking in historical accounts such as this. I do think that Kendi could have done slightly better on that last part. There were one or two times where he seemed to draw a false equivalency between Black women calling out Black men's patriarchy and Black men hating on Black women. However, most of the time- especially in the sections on Angela Davis and the epilogue- he does well to highlight the often buried history of Black womens resistance against not just white supremacy but also against patriarchy and misogyny within Black liberation movements.

Kendi avoids the racist-or-not-racist dichotomy and instead puts people into one of three camps: segregationists, assimilationists, and anti-racists. Technically, the first two are different kinds of racists, but weaving these three groups' ideologies throughout the book really helped to navigate the massive nuances in the history of racist ideas and liberation movements. He also uses terms like "gender racism" to describe the unique ways Black women deal with oppression- known to some others as misogynoir and/or intersectionality- and "upliftsuasion" in reference to assimilationist ideas and respectability politics.

Kendi calls attention to how anti-Black racism was used by wealthy whites in order to keep poor whites, non-Black people of color, white women, and other oppressed groups in their places. The painful history of indigenous enslaved people being replaced by Black enslaved people, native and poor white people offered privileges to pull them away from enslaved Black people, gynecological and other health experiments on enslaved people, IQ testing turning subjective intelligence into a faux-objective measurement targeting Black and poor people, and so on are highlighted with great detail. In the end, Kendi asserts that dismantling racism will serve the vast majority of white people more than racism does as racism has always been used as a tool to oppress everyone. Anti-Black racism has a root in and connection to every form of oppression and centering and dismantling anti-Black racism in all struggles will always help everyone in the big picture- even white people.

I highly recommend this as a history book about the USA, not just about racist ideas. It is by far the most comprehensive and accurate history of my country of residence that I have read.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Book Review: As Black As Resistance

Image: The cover of the book is a blurry black and white, vintage photograph of several dark skinned people leaning back against a wall. The women are wearing light colored dresses and the men are wearing light colored shirts and dark pants. One of the men is holding a small child perhaps of toddler ago. The title of the book, stylized to look like a shadow on the wall, is in black capitalized letters above their heads. Superimposed over the photograph, in small white letters are the authors' names and the byline for the book.

It has been a while since I felt that a book truly spoke my language. I read a lot of books about social justice, racial justice, feminism, and so on and while many of them are very good, I often leave feeling like they didn't quite match up with the level of unapologetic radical love that I was hoping for. As Black As Resistance by Zoé Samudzi and William C. Anderson really carved out a space in my heart while reading it. The book is short, but is not what I would call a short read. It is rather academic so it required me to take my time. I usually have some pretty strong critiques about academic social justice focused writing. Aside from accessibility to the masses, the biggest one is that a ton of academic texts I read aren't really saying much of anything. They often focus on talking big and self congratulation more than they do conveying a profound message. This book is not one of those academic writings. It is saying a hell of a lot and has a lot to offer in a very small space. Even though I know it would be a difficult read for some people, it is still a book I would hand out- especially as an introduction to... well... everything in the United States.

Samudzi and Anderson really wrap up a lot of topics into this small space and they use the voices they have quite well. They do not fall into the trappings that some books with a focus do where they leave other topics or the most marginalized people of the centered demographic behind. This book lifts up Blackness and centers the most oppressed Black people (Black women, LGBTQ people, etc.) At the same time, they leave no one else behind. The authors exemplify the "trickle up" system of resistance in which fighting for the most affected by systemic issues of oppression always positively affects everyone. The authors are direct, unapologetic, passionate, and fierce and at the same time there is a thread of great love and kindness woven throughout their writing. They do not attempt to ease the reader into the reality that the United States is a place of great horrors. Even if you are a person who is already familiar with many of the topics and much of the information in this book, I am going to guess that- like me- you will find it refreshing to read something so unapologetic that is, for once, not trying to couch what it is saying in something else. Dismantling white supremacy requires dismantling the United States, Black people (and some other oppressed groups) lack true citizenship and rights in the United States, slavery and settler colonialism are still present today and will be for as long as the United States exists. Period.

The section on self defense was my favorite part of this book. Part of this was because it was the part that really exposed me to things written in a way that I had not seen much before. But, part of it was because it was so empowering. Samudzi and Anderson tackle the historical inaccuracies about Black "nonviolent" resistance. They include quotes from W.E.B. DuBois, Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King Jr, and others all of whom defend the use of guns and violence for self defense. They also tackle the idea sometimes promoted by white manarchists that all fighting or violence is automatically self defence or justifiable. The writers take on a nuanced critique of violence and self defense in a way that calls attention to the critical need for communities to defend themselves and to not allow white washed rhetoric and false histories of nonviolent civil rights movemements be used to pacify them.

Even if you are a person who struggles with more academic writing, this is one that is worth grabbing your dictionary or google for and giving a shot. The authors also have a lot of footnotes where they do define many concepts and subjects, but some folks who are unfamiliar with anarchism or far left racial justice will still need help. It's worth it. This book is definitely one I will recommend to people for years to come.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Book Review: How to be Less Stupid About Race

Image: the cover of "How to be Less Stupid About Race" which is a light teal background with various words and phrases scattered in different direction, mostly obscured by the title and blending in with the background. "Not all white people," "What are you?'" "You are so articulate!'" and "I don't see color'" stick out in brighter shades of white. The title of the book is scattered down the page in crooked capitalized black letters with a yellow brushed texture behind them. Crystal M. Fleming is at the bottom going across in capital black letters and is underlined in yellow.

My first assumption about Crystal M. Fleming's "How to be Less Stupid About Race" was that it was a book likely targeting beginners in the realm of those seeking racial justice- a 101 of sorts. I suppose it was the title that made me think that. Upon reading it, I quickly realized that that assumption was false. If you're not familiar with words like "hegemony" and "heteropatriarchy," you will need to be willing to open google or your dictionary on occasion while reading this book. This is not a good or bad thing, just something to be aware of going in. No, you are not "stupid" at reading on top of being "stupid" about race. There is some academic jargon in here that is uncommon in our everyday language usage.

I initially had a hard time getting into the book because I found Fleming's approach to introducing the topics therein a little inaccessible. Part of this was due to the aforementioned reasons and because using the word "stupid" so much can devolve into ableism. But, it also came off as if Fleming was saying that anyone who has not "studied race" was basically not suited to talk about it publicly. As a person who has known and followed countless very wise people with no academic degrees, I could not grasp why someone would say this. I decided to just keep reading and I am glad that I did.

This book is very well organized. It's something often lacking in books like this that are almost a collection of essays but I always notice it. The placement and ordering is good, there is always a thread tying everything together, and the ending of the book wrapped it all up nicely. Fleming packed a HUGE amount of history, research, and information into this book. As I made my way through it, I began to understand better what she meant about highlighting and interviewing people who have "studied race." People who have studied these things can, but don't necessarilly have to, do so in college. If one studies these things, one is much better prepared to deal with all of the racist arguments that endlessly come at you in discussions of race. If you have studied race, you will likely still learn things from this book because of how much info she has packed into a small space as well as how she offers analyses of this info. Even the things I already knew about I appreciated her take on and organization of in the same space with related information. The book is dynamic, fast paced, and engaging.

A tool Fleming uses throughout the book is to analyze and be accountable for her past. Sometimes I felt it was a little much and I could feel her guilt seeping through. But, most of the time, it was a very welcome addition of humility from a writer. None of us is born "woke." We grow up within systems that teach us to hate ourselves and others and we all internalize these things. Fleming discussing her progress and learning process in becoming "less stupid about race" herself is something that makes her more approachable to the reader. It makes a very heavy book more personable. I believe, that without her stories, fewer people would enjoy the book and would assume they aren't radical enough. Learning the writer's process was a very smart technique in helping the reader learn.

 Fleming is very quotable throughout this book and also offers a few sections that I easily see making their way into anti-racist study groups or information sources online. The seven fallacies of white supremacy section helps break down a lot of ignorant assumptions about racism that are ingrained in many (or all) of us in a white supremacist society. Her chapters about Obama and Trump dismantle the capitalist binary that many liberals cling to (believing democrats are the good guys in the struggle just because republicans are bad guys.) In the end she gives us the ten steps we can take to build a less racist society. What is interesting about many of these things she has put together is that the audience she is speaking to is very wide. The language can get academic at times, but the suggestions and subject matter are directed at a lot of people of all races. I could see a wide range of people learning a lot from this book. Reading Fleming's learning process leads me to believe that her constant introspection may bring us more from her and that this book is one of many. Perhaps we will look back at this and see how she has come even further in the future. The wisest people never stop learning especially with how fast everything is always changing.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book Review: What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation About Race in America

Image: The cover of the book is a white background with "what truth sounds like" in gray capital letters except for the word truth which is in larger, black letters. In small, red capital letters next to the word "like" sits the byline of the book. A black line divides the title from the author's name below written in black capital letters. Next to his name is a gold circle that says "New York Times bestselling author of tears we cannot stop."

When I began Michael Eric Dyson's "What Truth Sounds Like," I found myself wondering if this book was going to be for me. I was previously unfamiliar with Dyson's work and the first passage of the book seemingly speaks of heroes and patriotic martyrs. I worried I was walking into another neoliberal revisionist telling of important histories of racial struggle and justice in the United States. You know, the kind where we hear things like Rosa Parks was just a tired woman on the bus and not a radical civil rights activist. I was pleased to find that continuing forward lead me into an informative and fairly well analyzed catalogue of race issues in the United States. Dyson's writing style is captivating and held my attention throughout.

It is clear that Dyson thought deeply about this book and his position in society before writing it.  His attention to his own perspective and how that both informs and limits his knowledge clearly helped him write the book. While the book's title references a discussion between RFK and James Baldwin, this discussion is not what the entire book is about. It is more of a connecting thread that Dyson uses to analyze elements of social justice, pop culture, politics, and policy throughout the decades. We do learn about this conversation, about the Kennedys (and their shortcomings regarding understanding race,) Baldwin, and other important figures present in the conversation such as Lorraine Hansberry. But, Dyson also discusses a wide range of public figures who have spoken about or influenced racial justice in some way including Harry Belafonte, Muhammad Ali, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Colin Kapernick, Cornel West, Ta-nehisi Coates, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton among others.

Dyson's book is fairly inclusive of a variety of intersecting struggles with race. He regularly mentions gender, sexuality, class, colorism, immigration status, and other issues. This is particularly important given that James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry were gay and lesbian on top of being Black which added a whole other level to the amount of social sludge they had to trek through to make their way in the world. There is also a great deal of information that Dyson included that showed the multidimensional nature of people the left likes to view as perfect, infallible heroes (which strengthens our toxic call-out culture.) The book is well researched which creates a good foundation to build the analyses Dyson expresses in this book. I feel like I understand more about what it was like to exist in different time periods than I did previously.

Dyson does well criticizing the racist and oppressive history of the United States without sugar coating it, but in the last third of his book he does fall into neoliberal patterns I was worried about. He has a whole section on Hillary Clinton in which he jumps through several hoops to defend or ignore the extensive problems with her, essentially blames Black people and other radicals who criticized her during her campaign as at fault for Trump winning, perpetuates the myth of the "white working class" being responsible for electing Trump when most Trump voters were affluent or at least middle class whites,  and other problematic and false assertions. During this he does make some good points such as rich famous academics not having as much to lose or that people critiquing Clinton did not do the same when Obama took similar actions. But, he completely glosses over the fact that the system is completely corrupt, many people with felonies could not vote due to extensive criminalization that Clinton supported, and the 2016 election was essentially a choice between two republicans: one closer to the center (Clinton) and one further to the right (Trump.) Clinton's convenient adopting of social justice language last minute cannot erase decades of racism, homophobia, war crimes, and other such beliefs and policies that have had deadly effects. Dyson's assertion that people should only be critiquing Trump instead of Clinton shows ignorance that does not fit in with the rest of his well researched and nuanced analyses he presents in the rest of the book. Forcing people to vote for someone who took active steps to keep them from having rights, because someone else does this more, makes voting pointless.

Overall, the book is interesting readable, and well timed. Dyson must be a fast writer because there are issues he talks about in this book that I remember happening quite recently. It is worth the read while keeping in mind that Dyson occasionally contradicts his radical analyses and politics at times by falling into neoliberal trappings.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower

Image: The cover of the book has a white background with 4 wide horizontal strokes of yellow paint going down the page. In black capital letters, the top two say "Eloquent Rage" and the bottom two say "Brittney Cooper." In between them in black letters it says "A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower." The bottom of the cover says ""Cooper is the Black Feminist Prophet we urgently need." -- MYCHAL DENZEL SMITH"

Brittany Cooper's Eloquent Rage is an appropriately titled collection of essays by one of the founders of Crunk Feminist Collective. I have followed CFC and "Crunktastic's" writings for years and thus looked forward to this book. It did not disappoint. Eloquent Rage is written with grace mixed with blunt honesty about many difficult topics. While I do think that anyone can- and should- read this book and thoroughly enjoy it, this book was written with Black women at the center. Cooper does not spend her time placing whiteness as a reference point for every experience in Black peoples lives. She does not shy away from tough discussions and questions because she did not write the book to pander to the white reader or respectability politics. Cooper's writing style is highly accessible despite her coming from an academic background. She weaves her personal experiences and stories throughout the essays making the book read a bit like a memoir in a good way. The book is highly quotable and entertaining and was easy to settle into.

"Real radicalism implores us to tell the whole ugly truth, even when it is inconvenient. To own the hurt and the pain. To own our shit, too. To think about it systemically and collectively, but never to diminish the import of the trauma."

This quote appears near the very end of the book and sums up well how many of the essays are written. Cooper tackles topics such as Black girl friendships, nonromantic true love, being a southern Black girl in the hood who loved white pop culture items like the babysitter's club, white supremacy manifesting in Black culture, the struggles of being a Black nerd in a predominantly white gifted program, toxic Black masculinity and patriarchy, straight dating while feminist, backing neoliberals as a Black feminist radical, internal conflicts when our desires don't match up with leftist dogma, interracial relationships and abuse, the benefits and pitfalls of Black Christian churches, pop culture feminism vs academic feminism, generation gaps and lessons, and many others with an inviting honesty. 
(CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Assault and abuse mentioned)
The essay "White-Girl Tears" tackles so many extremely sensitive topics with nuance and bravery. I have been waiting for a long time for someone to put everything she said in that essay together in a way that hits on all the things at play at the same time. Cooper did this. Discussing things like white tears and femininity as deadly weapons, Black women being forced to choose their race over their gender, white men lynching Black men and raping Black women, Black men raping white women, white men and women lying about rape, interracial consensual relationships, the choice and political nature of who we love and desire, Black womens bodies and lives being used as "practice" for abuse, white women/femininity being seen as a conquest or prize, and many other complicated and/or horrific topics is no easy feat. Until reading Cooper's chapter, I often found discussions of some of these things reductive and leaving me needing more. "White-Girl Tears" had it all and I am eternally grateful for both personal and political reasons for that and all the tough conversations she has continued.

I did not agree with Cooper on everything. There were a couple times I thought she was too reductive or went too easy on someone, like Hillary Clinton. But, that doesn't mean she won't change my mind. I will be thinking about many of the things she has said in this book and will be coming back to quotes from it time and again. This book is readable, accessible, entertaining, brave, and important. I highly recommend it to anyone of any background because I think everyone can gain something from it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Punitive Drug War & Reductive Journalism are not Solving the "Opioid Crisis"

Image: An orange transparent prescription pill bottle lays on it's side, open, spilling pills and supplements onto a white surface. The pills are a variety of different shapes, colors, and sizes.
Content note: This post mentions medical abuse, drug addiction, suicide, and oppression. Read with care.

A friend of mine regularly sends me interesting or relevant news articles that she reads during her down time at work. She chooses everything from interesting research finds to things we can mutually hate-read and critique together. Today she sent me the reductive and insultingly titled "Is chronic pain something more people should accept? Amid the opioid crisis, the concept of “pain acceptance” is gaining credibility." Since I have not written more than book reviews on here in quite some time, I decided to share my thoughts on this article.

 Before delving into this, I want to say, I have an especially cautious reaction any time a journalist who does not have a background in science and/or medicine writes an article on science and/or medicine. It's not that I think they never should. I only have a Bachelor's in science and worked in research for 5 years- I'm hardly a world-renowned doctorate science expert and here I am writing about it. But, when I did work in research, I would hear the stories of researchers having their work reported on in the media in fanciful and often false ways in order to make the story better or draw connections between things the research didn't connect. In one case, the publication even made a FAKE GRAPH about my PI's results and put it into an article about his work. Or for instance, when articles came out about research showing plants respond in certain ways to their environment. What is more interesting, "Plants respond to their environments and environmental networks" or "NEW RESEARCH SUGGESTS PLANTS FEEL PAIN." The latter, however bullshit, gets you clicks. Basically, you cannot trust a lot of articles to tell the truth about medicine and research (including even some written by doctors, but that's for another post.)

The idea of mind over matter and pain acceptance is a nice idea. People like it because it creates the illusion of control. People without chronic pain especially like it because it allows them to have their prejudices against those with chronic pain while knowing if they ever develop it some day that they can just think their way out of it. While pain acceptance may work as a solitary treatment for the times that opioids are just thrown at people for a stubbed toe or whatever (I hear about this in the articles about the drug war all of the time but have never met anyone this has actually happened to,) it's really not possible as a singular treatment when you're chipping your teeth from grinding them trying to "accept" your pain even while you are on your medication. Or when doing things to "distract" aggravates your pain, when just breathing or turning your head makes it worse, and when pain medications are the only thing that lets you leave your bed or house. I worry about a lot of these narratives that are coming out about simple and magical alternative to pain management drugs that are going to solve the "opioid epidemic." These articles almost always fail to understand social factors and biases that go into such "crises." (I am using quotes because there have always been drug crises and it never became a focus until suburban white people began dying in larger numbers.) A key sentence in the article is highlighted, "Even people who believe that accepting pain has benefited them don’t necessarily think it should be used as a way to cut down on prescription opioid painkillers." Yet, it becomes buried in the hyperbole of an article that associates pain acceptance treatment with a solution for ending opioid addictions and deaths which are extremely complex issues. Rhetoric like this is even leading to Medicare- government health insurance for disabled people and/or elders, people most likely to need long-term pain management care- announcing that they are going to stop paying for some opioids. Let that sink in for a second.

The end of the article finally gets down to some of this:

Pain acceptance is not without its detractors. Vox recently devoted an episode of its podcast “The Impact” to pain acceptance. The episode called it “a possible future for pain treatment.” In response, the website The Mighty, which describes itself as “a digital health community” with more than a million users, published several posts critical of the idea. “The podcast prompted a backlash from people with chronic pain, who argued that saying a level of chronic pain is ‘acceptable’ essentially abandons chronic pain patients,” an editor for the website wrote in one post. “Rather than tell them they need to accept their pain, they need more pain-relief options, doctors who are willing to fight for them, and less stigma against using opioids responsibly.”
That backlash may be fueled by fears that some people with chronic pain have expressed that the health care system is leaving them  behind in the rush to condemn opioids. Some doctors and patients warn that the movement to decrease opioid use for chronic pain has gone too far, amounting to a dangerous overreaction that risks cutting people off from medication they need.

Will anyone absorb these incredibly important statements and follow these external links discussing how ridiculous the idea of "pain acceptance" replacing opioid treatments and helping solve the "opioid crisis" in an article written like this? All of the people with the most experience and information are a side note at the very end. Most of the chronic pain sufferers represent the critical voices at the end of the article, and the other two case studies are of people benefiting from acceptance therapy, one of whom may still be taking opiates (it never mentions if Gwen has stopped completely,) and the other who only survives her flares with an extensive amount of resources and a support system not available to many people.

"In contrast to traditional cognitive therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy asks people to accept thoughts, feelings, memories, and bodily sensations that are beyond their control, rather than attempt to change or get rid of them. The therapy then encourages people with chronic pain to take part in activities that add value and meaning to their lives, even as pain persists."

I don't believe I can honestly write a post like this without talking about myself. I have multiple chronic pain conditions. Chronic, severe constochondritis makes it difficult for me to breathe, speak, move my arm, and do many other daily motions and things most people take for granted. Joint pain from arthritis in pretty much every joint make walking, standing, sitting, lying down all painful or uncomfortable at best. Fibromyalgia that I was first diagnosed with as a teenager makes all of this worse and also causes my body to feel like it's covered in bruises and the worst sunburn of your life or like I have been hit by a car or have fallen down several flights of stairs. I am on social security disability for these conditions as well as other things (cancer, heart conditions, etc), but my chronic pain and fatigue are what destroy my life. I have lost many friendships and relationships, I have little to no social life, I cannot do most things I used to love like biking, dancing, etc. I am on 20 prescription medications. I am also a recovering addict with over 13 years clean, so the decision to take any opioid pain medications was one of the most difficult ones of my life. I take several non-narcotic medications to avoid this, yet the drug war continues to limit my access to those medications as well.

Along with heavier opioids, I had three doctors suggest the opioid drug I chose to take to me before I would agree to try. I was terrified of becoming addicted to it. That drug is mentioned in this article: tramadol. I have gone great lengths to not let my pain medication graduate from tramadol (a very weak opioid that also has SNRI properties) to something stronger (yet) in my life. But, before I took tramadol, I was laying in bed crying because every technique I tried did not work enough or made me worse. I got injections into the joints in my chest, I did physical therapy, I tried supplements, diets, ice, rest, heat, topicals, patches, I read chronic pain books, tried acupuncture, yoga, different exercises, not exercising, meditation, tens units, therapy, psychiatric medications, sleep hygiene, and many other things- many of which I had to crowdfund for as they are not covered by insurance (more on that later.) Some of these, doctors actually instructed me not to do anymore (such as yoga and strenuous exercise) because my conditions are made worse by them. One day, I was laying in bed with an ice pack on my chest, breathing shallowly, in tears after cortisone costochondral joint injections had increased my pain for weeks rather than reduced it. I picked up the phone and called my doctor's office. "I will try the tramadol." Years have now passed with me taking this drug multiple times a day every day, managed by my doctor. I can say with 100% certainty that it was the correct decision. I can't magically predict what I would do with a life I did not lead, but I am pretty sure that I would have attempted suicide without tramadol.

For the past week or so I have been taking the maximum amount of medication I am allowed per day (which I very rarely do,) because it feels like someone is smashing a sledgehammer into my lower back, possibly from an untreated spinal fracture. My rheumatologist has not gotten back to me. When I take the drugs, I cry less. I also use ice, heat, topicals, patches, rest, meditation, distraction, and a lot of other shit, but the drugs are key. One night, I said to myself, "I am gonna win over the meds, I am not gonna take the last one, I am gonna meditate through it." I lay there in bed with tears running down my face showing what a tough guy I could be when really I could have taken my fucking meds and gone to sleep which would have been better for me and my health. Part of the reason my pain has recently skyrocketed is because of the kind of acceptance in this article. For a couple of weeks I did too much- went to multiple doctors appointments and also social engagements. I accepted things hurt so bad and just powered through. I got sicker and sicker. I carried ice packs with me to shove under my seatbelt, cried in my car between events, coated myself in capsaicin and anti-inflammatory patches so often that I ripped my red, raw skin off with them, and told myself suck-it-up you can do this. Live life! Don't let pain run your life! Every time I "accept" my pain and don't give into it, it will conquer me with a greater army later and I end up taking larger quantities of drugs in the long run. You can just go out to a movie instead of "fixating" on the pain? GOOD FOR YOU. I can't breathe or move my left arm when I do too much so driving there is gonna be a tad bit difficult (not to mention unsafe for me and others.) Right now I can barely stand up straight. I am not trying to get on that person- this is a shot at the journalist for how she framed it. Even the person is who is sharing her acceptance shares that when shit gets bad, her life falls apart and she has all these things and people to fall back on. Not everyone has that, so they take the drugs to get groceries because they don't have a huge support system to clean their house and get groceries for them. They don't have a big disposable income to order takeout three times a day and not eating is obviously unhelpful.

Articles like this don't highlight that part of chronic pain- this article's first case study is reductive and makes it seem like she just got better. I wonder if any reader will notice that they don't mention if Gwen stopped taking her opioids. All they mention is that acceptance helped her- of fucking course it did. She probably still takes drugs, too, just less of them. Anyone with chronic pain is already doing "pain acceptance" because drugs never kill all of the pain. Every time I have had a surgery, I have still had significant pain even while on the max amount of drugs, acceptance is always part of it. Is getting better at that a good thing? ABSOLUTELY. But, the false association that it's going to solve the opioid crisis is complete bullshit. The throwaway bit at the end is not what the majority of prejudiced people will take home from this. This is not what doctors with racist, sexist prejudices are going to take home from this. They are going to say "See those women are just whiny and they just need to learn to suck it up and deal with their hysteria! This article proves it!" The scientists will be like "Uh actually...." like they always are but the damage will be done.

Everything is always well timed in these articles with whatever the current social idea is around pain management and disability. Since we've recently gone from it not being managed enough to "everyone's just a drug seeking junky so let's take away their healthcare," articles like this fit nicely into that. Sometimes I think nonscientists/doctors shouldn't be allowed to write articles like this. Then again, I have seen some horrendously bigoted and ignorant things written by doctors, too.
I would like to see more articles and studies on people who have been denied pain management or abruptly had their coverage or drugs taken away. How many of them felt great? How many of them just accepted it and suddenly started living great lives and going to the movies? How many of them committed suicide? How many of them got worse because doctors dismissed their pain as not real or not that bad (very often the case with Black people, women, trans people, and I would bet any marginalized person, especially those with multiple intersecting oppressions)? How does race fit into these articles when studies have shown that doctors believe Black people have less sensitivity to pain? It's interesting that this article links opioid use to a decline in American life expectancy, but does not discuss the link between chronic pain and that decline. They did not discuss how people take excessive opioids because they get stuck working injurious and painful jobs because they are denied disability and opioids are the only way they can survive it. As a person who navigated the 2+ year $0 annual income poverty of the social security disability application and appeals process that about 80-90% of applicants go through if they even make it to the end without dying or giving up, it is not at all surprising to me that some people choose to take morphine and keep working at a job that may injure them further. They didn't talk about people getting hooked on opioids because their insurance won't pay for "pain acceptance" treatment or physical therapy. They didn't talk about people getting hooked on opioids because they are single mothers and no one will help them care for their children and they are working 3 jobs and have no time or money for lengthy non-narcotic treatments that only partially work. They didn't discuss how the drug war is preventing disabled people from getting their medications filled at pharmacies because of capitalism rather than healthcare. They don't discuss the stigma and impossibility of using mobility aids in a world that makes many of them near impossible to use, so people take drugs to keep walking instead of using a wheelchair. They don't discuss the societal aspects of opiate use. They just call everyone addicts because our country values punishment over healing, restriction over moderation, blame over trust, and capitalism and profit over people. 

This post is already long, so I am ending it here for brevity's sake. But, much more could be said about the history of the drug war, prisons and prisoners who are victims of it, medical abuse of people based on their various identities and traits, private and government insurance, drug and alcohol dependence, and many other things I mention here. I encourage people to continue having conversations about these things rather than eating up whatever the buzzphrase of the moment is as it is almost always a fraction of the truth.