Rebuilt Identity: In Progress

I’ve been reading this book by Chris Abani. Abani is a Nigerian-American writer. His mother was very English. But His father, Nigerian, so where is the American in him? Well–he lives in the United States. And he has done for years. He is American now.

The book I’m reading is called The Secret History of Las Vegas. It’s brilliantly written, though one of the creepier books I’ve ever picked up. It’s a novel about a man who does studies on psychopathy. A scary topic, to say the least.

Chris Abani has a TED Talk he did some years ago. 2008, actually. It is about humanity. But it’s also about how Africa is constantly in a state of rebuilding itself and it’s identity. in this TED Talk for instance, he explained that, until the genocide in Rwanda, the word for rape and marriage were actually the same. There may have been a difference in the context the word was used that changed it’s meaning, but this reflects a culture that accepted rape on a scale not seen for many hundred years in the western world. However, after the genocide, a word was created for this act in Rwanda. And this thing was rebuilt not as marriage, but as a crime and atrocity, and it was done so by women.

Abani speaks of apartheid a lot. And to think partied only ended in 1991, and even then, all the laws were only abolished in 1994. And it hasn’t been so long. What identity does South Africa have? What must it rebuild for it’s citizens and those who call it home. Apartheid was an era that rivals the monstrosities of the Third Reich, yet most people ignore it, or do not know about it. It feels like ancient history for many.

But in South Africa, in Africa at large, the repercussions of apartheid are still being felt. It is still a dangerous country, a dangerous continent, rife with civil unrest.

Abani brings these issues to his novels. He reminds readers that the struggles of Africa are the same struggles of the western and eastern worlds. They are human rights. They are constantly being rebuilt.

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The Medium of Less

If you’re a big reader I can imagine you’d want your kid(s) to be also. I think that really hurt my mom because she wanted me to love reading as much as she did. She would hang out on the couch with a book on dark winter nights and just lose herself. I liked talking with her about those books and stories, even if I didn’t like reading. I remember her telling me all about The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver–that was when Kingsolver was hitting it out of the ball park and was the next great thing on the shelves. Now she’s an old hand.

Anyway, I think, after all the specialists my parents took me too and all the poor results they had with getting me to enjoy reading my mom lost hope. I think I would have. What’s the point of trying to teach someone something when they try everything they can to NOT LEARN IT. The thing was, I was learning to read. I was playing card games and video games that included reading. Still, it wasn’t the TYPE of reading my mom wanted me to like. And maybe that’s the problem.

You might not know, but smartphone novels are now a thing. A smartphone novel is a novel written to be read on a smartphone. Apparently it’s very popular in Japan. See, most avid readers would be rather put off by reading on their phones for 5 minutes, let alone the time it takes to read a novel. But in Japan, apparently, smartphone novels are really big and lots of people read them while on public transportation and such. It makes sense if a writer can get an episodic form down that keeps people reading.

What I’m trying to say is this: just because someone likes a different medium by which something is diseminated doesn’t make it less.

Of course there are people who would disagree with me. Acadamia is a culprit in this type of thinking, oftentimes disparaging forms of literature that the institution doesn’t find deep or metaphorical enough. But the truth is, reading and the written word is metaphorical by nature.

So, it didn’t seem to occur to my mom to let me play more video games because it forced me to read. Instead she thought reading Brother Bear one more time would be the right way to go, which I hated. Of course she lost hope. She didn’t realize I was getting all the reading practice I needed from a medium she saw as “less.”

Have We All Abandoned Them?

When you walk or bike or drive the streets of Seattle it’s impossible not to notice the people with signs. Many of them are common enough in any city. “Anything Helps,” is a popular one. So is, “Disabled Vet.” Some of them look like veterans, some of them are just kids that have found themselves on the street. Some of them might think it’s cool. Might feel like they aren’t part of the system. But the truth is, most homeless people in Seattle don’t want to be homeless. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, no matter how you look at it. I mean, there are tents along major roads that are peoples’ permanent residents. The cops don’t bother them. They don’t move. There are tent cities under the overpasses. The other day I cycled by a minivan that was obviously someones home. It turns out, in 2015, the homeless population in Seattle rose by 20.8% (head count of 3,123 in 2014, head count of 3,772 in 2015), and this doesn’t even count the 6,000 people who are lucky enough to have a bed at the homeless shelters in the city. That’s a huge rise, especially for a single year. You might think some of the people are just lazy and don’t want to get a job–but that’s not true. Go down to one of these tent cities I’m talking about around 7am, and you’ll see many people climb from their tents in nice clothing, on their way to work. It’s not that they are lazy, that they don’t have ambition, but it is because they don’t have enough money. A single bedroom apt in Seattle goes for at least $1,000 per month. A room in a house will be at least half of that. Many people who are homeless just don’t make enough money for rent. They can buy food, but limited hours due to automation at low paying jobs such as grocery stores, and such, have made a homeless population boom in the city. While some of them are incapable of getting a job due to disabilities, mental illness, and addiction, our current system doesn’t have enough resources to get these people functioning again. Before you name a resource you know of, think about what that resource demands of someone. Then ask yourself: Can someone who is mentally ill or strung out navigate that system?. While there are some resources that the disabled and mentally ill can utilize, many of them are in no position to navigate the bureaucracy that comes along with it. A mentally ill person who can’t make appointments can’t become rehabilitated. Someone who can’t drive may not have the means to get to the places he or she may need to be.

What I’m trying to say is this: some people cannot help themselves, and so it should be up to our society to help those you can’t. I mean, what kind of world do we want to live in, really?

Homelessness is a self perpetuated cycle. If you have no home, you can’t get a job. If you have no job, you can’t get a home. If you’re not mentally stable it’s likely you can’t understand what help there is out there, and if your disabled you can’t always jump through all the hoops to get the help you need. All of these combined make a very difficult situation to deal with. Homelessness increases crime, crime increases incarceration, incarceration is a massively expensive endeavor, and many of these people are not necessarily bad people. They are just people who fell through the cracks of what we call society. Who are we, to let this happen to our own people? Have we all abandoned them?