This month, the theme in our family seems to be reinventing ourselves. My teen has asked to be called by a different name and has started exploring personal style via the thrift store, I started a new job teaching in an after school/enrichment program and am going by my middle name there, and my spouse has started wearing more fashionable clothes that fit (ie, clothes he purchases intentionally rather than relying on hand-me-down polo shirts and chinos from his dad and brothers). My middle-schooler is the only one not actively engaged in reinventing himself, although the rapid changes of his developmental stage bring identity shifts whether he’s looking for them or not.
Part of this reinvention also involves reevaluating the nature of our relationships with people outside our household and determining which we want to cultivate and which we want to let fade into the past. Some friendships are changing because friends are moving away, literally. Other friendships were fading before, put in cold storage during the pandemic, and are now reaching their delayed conclusion. It’s reminding me that I handle relationships in a more direct fashion than a lot of people seem to. Back in my pre-marriage days, the way I would express my interest in someone was to say, “I find you attractive and it seems like you might also find me attractive. Would you be interested in a physical relationship?” This only once didn’t scare the person off. (Reader, I married him.)
My approach to friendships is much the same and yields similar results. I recently told a friend, “Although we’ve been trying to get our kids together for the past several years, they really don’t seem to have much in common, so I think we should stop trying to get them to connect.” The results were not as Spock-like as I predicted.
The upshot is that I engage with other people in ways that I perceive as logical and pragmatic and that they often perceive as cold, hurtful, and/or weird. It is not a surprise that I have a relatively small number of friends, but that the ones I have are very, very good friends.
We all got a break from my awkwardness while we were avoiding social contact for public health reasons, but now that we’re reengaging, I have to figure out a strategy for meeting people and maybe not alienating all of them. I am acquiring much more empathy for my engineer father than I had when I was younger.
Most of my reading this month was from my son’s homeschool curriculum and my Book Riot Tailored Book Recommendations.
One book that really got me thinking this month was Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Set in the 1920s, it’s about a family in decline after the Mexican Revolution who are forced to flee to California and reestablish themselves as field workers rather than as the landowners they had been for generations in Mexico. In addition to being a coming-of-age story, it’s also a look at class divisions and the conditions of farm laborers in California. It offers a perspective that was never represented in my California history classes in public school in the 1980s.
I realized as I was reading this book that there are some who consider it liberal propaganda—as one source argued, it “offers a one-sided political narrative about issues of illegal immigration and race relations”—because it focuses on the experience of a largely ignored segment of the population that is critical to the prosperity of the state and of the country. If it’s impossible to tell the story of farm laborers in California without revealing the inequality, racism, and exploitation that’s built into the system, the only way to keep from confronting these issues is to silence this perspective by claiming it’s “political” and “one-sided,” as if pushing for only the dominant narrative isn’t political and one-sided.
How can these arguments, which are stale and tiresome after being trotted out generation after generation to silence the non-dominant perspective and to allow those in power to continue justifying the role of injustice in maintaining their position, still work? How can the narrative continue to be controlled by those who have always controlled it—the small, powerful group at the top—despite the fact that they are significantly outnumbered?
Perhaps it’s related to the systematic gutting of public education in an attempt to maintain racial and economic segregation throughout the generations, something I’m reading about in one of my September books, We Are Not Yet Equal by Carol Anderson. The results of this is just what those in power want in a system that relies on the subjugation of a large group of people for the enrichment of a minority: wealth inequality that equals and by some measures surpasses that during the late 19th century (from Linda Yueh’s What Would the Great Economist’s Do?, another September book) and a population easily swayed by misinformation and unable to tell the difference between a reputable source and one that is trying to use them.
As is probably obvious, I’m getting a lot out of the books I’m reading lately. Hopefully it will lead me to take actions beyond just complaining about things.
Finished in August (13):
Homeschool (Build Your Library Curriculum):
Silver People by Margarita Engle
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Darby by Jonathon Scott Fuqua
The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
For Challenges/Book Clubs:
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion
A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
Frientimacy by Shasta Nelson (DNF)
How We Survived by Roz Chast
This last book is published by Thornwillow Press and included as part of their monthly Thornwillow Dispatch subscription box. I don’t really need a subscription box, but it’s well made and fun, and I’m glad I ordered one. I might keep it going another month or two and see what other goodies appear.
To-Read for September:
What I really feel like reading is books that will make me unable to go from the bed to the bathroom without imagining things lurking in the dark (besides my cats), but I’m making myself wait until October for those. So, September reading isn’t so exciting, but I hope the anticipation makes the spooky books next month even sweeter.